My Water Goes Where?

The treatment plant in LaSalle, Ill., brings environmental awareness to the public in conjunction with Earth Day.
My Water Goes Where?
The team in LaSalle leads plant tours on Earth Day to explain what the clean water industry is all about.

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The folks in LaSalle, Ill., are on the "green" bandwagon, bringing students and adults through the doors for wastewater treatment plant tours. While plant staff members have been providing tours for years, Earth Day tours were new last year at the new East Side Wastewater Treatment Plant (0.5 mgd design).

Sam McNeilly, LaSalle superintendent and director of Public Works, says, "We had a new treatment plant that we wanted to take people through." Community leaders understand the importance of educating young people about water resources, says McNeilly. They've been working to increase attendance for plant tours.

Local support

The East Side and LaSalle (3.3 mgd design) plants serve about 10,000 people. Helping to inform residents about the tours is the Little Vermilion Watershed Committee, made up of farmers and community leaders dedicated to keeping the river valley healthy.

"The committee was particularly active in setting up last year's activities for the schools," says McNeilly. "We also understand the importance of having this group and other environmental groups supporting our activities as we go forward."

The committee holds routine meetings and educates the public on all aspects of the Little Vermilion River, the receiving stream for the East Side treatment plant. Tours of that plant on Earth Day enabled the group to show people how wastewater is processed and cleaned before release.

Kevin Daley, superintendent for both plants, adds, "For years, people had a misunderstanding about what a wastewater treatment facility could actually do. Nobody has ever stepped forward and come down to see what the plants are actually capable of.

"In a receiving stream like the Illinois River or the Little Vermilion River, people have the concept that the plants are dumping sewage into the water. In reality, we're cleaning the rivers up. We're showing people nowadays that what we're putting into the rivers is actually helping the rivers. They can see that the clear water looks like drinking water going into the receiving stream."

Where do I apply?

Earth Day tours also gave plant staff a chance to reach students — the next generation of employees. "Kids take a bath or flush the toilet, and they don't even know where the water goes," says Daley. "This way they get to see where it goes and what it's actually doing — the biological system in action.

"We want to show these kids that there are careers available where years ago I don't think they really understood that these even existed or what their opportunities could be in this field."

Adults, including local farmers and Sue Rezin, a state senator, also got a chance to see how far technology has come. "Sen. Rezin was pleasantly surprised," says McNeilly. "The concepts we push forward are important to the industry.

"Traditionally, clarifiers provide gravity settling of solids, which are recycled back into the facility. We do not have clarifiers. Membrane bioreactors take their place and create very high-quality water. We also don't have the large footprint you typically see at treatment plants or the complex operations related to hydraulics in clarifiers.

"It's important for people to understand where we've come as an industry. The changes that have occurred over the last 30 years have been to the betterment of society."


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