For All to See

Brave new clean-water plants don’t hide at the end of a road outside town. They stand visibly as symbols of water protection and community investment.

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The classic location for a clean-water plant is outside town at the end of a road (maybe gravel), or hidden in some old industrial district. In part that always made sense. Economics dictate that to the extent possible, wastewater should flow by gravity. So the ultimate collection point is in a low spot, often right down near the river or the creek.

And probably not by accident, in a low spot well out of sight of downtown. Again necessity played a role: Look back 40 or 50 years and treatment plants had their issues with odors (some still do). All of this was unfortunate, since it tended to portray wastewater treatment as something off to the side, and wastewater operators as people
with dirty, menial, undesirable jobs.

That is changing as older clean-water plants get replaced or upgraded. Often the new plant won't fit on the old site and a new location has to be found. Other times the old site is suitable but the community has grown up around it — and the new facility has to come up to some pretty high standards of appearance and cleanliness.

Right out front

In either scenario, the new plant or upgrade often becomes a highly visible part of the community. One such plant is profiled in the September issue. The Brightwater Clean- Water Treatment Facility, King County, Wash., stands in a neighborhood of low-density housing and light industry and will probably develop further.

So the county invested heavily in making it a good neighbor, committing to, among other things, no detectable odors beyond the fenceline. All process areas are covered or inside buildings under negative pressure. All air that comes in contact with wastewater is scrubbed in three odor-control phases before it is exhausted.

There are many other examples of treatment plants blending in with their communities. Among the most extreme examples is the North River Wastewater Treatment Plant in Manhattan — it has Riverbank State Park as its roof.

The Johns Creek Environmental Campus in Roswell, Ga., owned by Fulton County, lies just a few yards from well-to-do neighborhoods and is designed to be odorless and noiseless. Most of the process equipment is underground.

In a smaller-town setting, the Frisco (Colo.) Sanitation District treatment plant is located at the end of Main Street, a short walk from a marina, shops and condominiums. Its buildings are designed to blend right in — tourists barely know the facility is there.

Those are just a few examples. Many treatment plants make themselves showpieces with elaborate plantings and landscaping. They make their buildings not just functional but also attractive. Far from hiding in some remote spot, they essentially say to their communities, "Here I am."

Equally important

And all that is good on several levels. For one thing, it makes a statement to the public (the people who pay the bills) that the clean-water plant is just as essential as the police station, the library and city hall when it comes to providing services.

For another, an attractive, visible facility automatically raises the stature of and the respect given to the people who work there. Operators need and deserve to know the people they work for appreciate them. And the public needs to know the people who protect their water resources are well-educated and skilled professionals.

And finally, an attractive facility makes an impression on young people — those who might one day become operators. It's not a stretch to say that one reason many kids say they want to be firefighters (in addition to the trucks, the spraying water, the heroism) is that they ride past the firehouse on the way to school or to the grocery store.

It can't hurt long-term recruiting potential to have boys and girls see the clean-water plant now and then in their
travels around town — and to have them find it appealing. Maybe we'll know we're making progress when we start
hearing kids in grade school career days say, "I want to be a clean-water operator."

Clean, beautiful and visible treatment plants alone won't make that happen, but they certainly can't hurt the cause.


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