Bye-Bye Bad Old Days

A riverfront sign tells paddlers passing the Holly Advanced Tertiary Treatment Plant about remarkable progress in pollution control.
Bye-Bye Bad Old Days
Canoeists stop to read the sign comparing current treatment to the “old days.”

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A3- by 4-foot sign on the bank of the Shiawassee River in southeast Michigan tells the success story of the wastewater treatment plant in the Village of Holly. Positioned within 10 feet of the plant perimeter fence and with the plant in full view behind it, the sign marks a designated stopping point and rest area for canoeists and kayakers.

“The sign is located right at our outfall,” says Tim Stallcup, plant superintendent. “Everyone who stops can see the plant and see how clear our water is before it goes into the river. They can see everything.”

Donated by Headwaters Trails, a local non-profit group committed to building a network of hiking and waterway trails, the sign displays digital images embedded in a fiberglass surface that contrast discharge water conditions before and after enactment of the 1972 Clean Water Act.

Featured are the Holly Advanced Tertiary Treatment Plant of today (1.35 mgd design, 0.9 mgd average) and a list of its many awards from the state and the U.S. EPA. The sign also lists consumer tips for improving water quality and displays an image of a discharge pipe whose polluted discharge transforms into a clear waterway with fish.

The sign’s caption reads, “The Bad Old Days Are Gone,” and a sub-caption reads, “How far we have come … by cleaning up our act.”

“It’s not meant to be negative,” says Headwaters Trails president Sue Julian. “We just wanted passers-by to get the message on the sign, even if they didn’t stop. There are never any odors at the plant, and there are always lots of fish, so we don’t have to say how good it is – that speaks for itself.”

Plant operators helped install the sign, mounted on two aluminum posts cemented into the ground. Water at high levels from spring flooding reaches the support posts but has had no effect on the sign since its installation four years ago, Stallcup says.

Although no one has ever tried to deface the sign, graffiti could easily be removed from the fiberglass surface. Fading and fogging have not happened, either. A plant security camera aimed at the sign and the river often reveals the surprise of canoeists and kayakers who stop and witness the cleanliness of the water and the plant, says Stallcup.

Sometimes during organized canoeing or kayaking events, plant staff members post pictures of the river users on the plant’s website, further promoting the commitment to clean water. “It’s kind of a good PR effort and people can better understand our treatment process,” Stallcup says.

A grant from the Saginaw Bay Watershed Initiative Network helped fund the sign, which was a collaborative effort supported by the Village of Holly. “Most important, the signage project received unqualified support from Tim Stallcup from the very beginning,” says Julian. “Tim provided historical data and worked with local artist Gayle Vandercook to develop the design.”

Stallcup adds, “Another good feature of the sign is that we are putting out the word that we are as concerned about discharging clean water as the paddlers are.” While the sign is a positive feature, Stallcup says that next to plant cleanliness, his team’s biggest source of pride is a SCADA system (ICONICS). “We operate the plant with a three-person staff, and that’s pretty darned good for a plant this size.”


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