Making a Statement

Treatment plant teams demonstrate that public education doesn’t have to be expensive or time-consuming. All it takes is a little old-fashioned ingenuity.

Ask a team of treatment operators to fix an odor problem, improve a process, find ways to conserve energy, or get more from a piece of equipment, and the result just might amaze you. This magazine has been full of stories where operators solved problems faster and at far less cost than remedies cooked up by engineering firms.

But ask a group of operators for ways to engage the public in their clean-water mission, and that’s a little bit tougher. The reasons are fairly obvious: Operators signed up to run mechanical, chemical and biological processes that protect waterways and comply with discharge permits — not to figure out how to teach Boy Scouts, school kids, and Rotarians about the importance of clean water.

And yet, public education is an important part of the job, if not for the front-line operators then certainly for the plant managers and superintendents. If you doubt it, consider that most state and regional industry associations have education committees.

Why is education important? Because the public (customers) pay the bills, and the more they think what happens at the treatment plant is wonderful, necessary, miraculous, the more they will support plant upgrades and improvements that cost them money.

How it’s done

So, how do operators do it? In each issue of TPO, the “Hearts and Minds” column tells how someone does it. Sometimes we’ve profiled education centers run by larger agencies, to which smaller plants can only say, “Must be nice.”

But in many or most cases, we tell about small plants’ initiatives, from which facilities of almost any size could “borrow” without a lot of time or great expense. For example, in past issues, we’ve reported on:

• Troy Cassidy’s Kids Science & Water Workshop at Haines City, Fla., designed to get kids ages 8 to 12 interested in clean-water professions.

• The Wheels to Water program in King County, Wash., that buses in students in grades 4-12 for treatment plant tours. (King County’s is a major urban operation, but the concept is pretty simple).

• Peter Hartz’s rain garden/outdoor classroom at the Village of Johnson Creek (Wis.) treatment plant.

• Matt Meeks’ educational DVD, G-rated (for grit, grime and grease), designed to introduce people of all ages to wastewater treatment, and produced on a shoestring in Maize, Kan.

• The Clean Water Cadets program at the Southern Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant in Hollywood, Fla., that uses creative endeavors, including original plays, to encourage behaviors that protect the waters.

• The annual Open House and Reuse Rally in Delhi Charter Township, Mich., held as part of Water Quality Awareness Week.

• The 180-gallon aquarium, stocked with Atlantic salmon swimming in plant effluent, that greets visitors to the Bangor (Maine) treatment plant.

What’s your approach?

Do you see anything in that list that you might duplicate? Or, more to the point, do you have an education program you’d like to share? It doesn’t have to be big or fancy. In fact, if it’s not, so much the better, because then more of your peers in the profession might be able to adapt it to their plants.

Tell us about what you’re doing to get your publics — kids, potential employees, customers, teachers — on board with your mission through education. We’ll report on your initiatives in future issues of TPO.

Just send me a note that briefly describes your program, and include a picture or two. All of us at TPO look forward to hearing from you.


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