Here's All a 6-Year-Old Needs to Know About the Wastewater Treatment Plant

My grandson Tucker is 6 years old. He asked me to take him to the “water wasting treatment plant.” How could I say no?

Here's All a 6-Year-Old Needs to Know About the Wastewater Treatment Plant

Tucker Kulow (right) and brother Perrin.  

On a visit with the grandsons last summer, 6-year-old Tucker out of the blue began talking about the “water wasting treatment plant.” Apparently he had learned about such things on an episode of a Curious George TV program.

“Don’t you mean wastewater treatment plant?” I say.

“No, water wasting treatment plant,” Tucker insists.

All right then. “Well,” I say, “did you know you have a water wasting treatment plant right here in town?” (That’s Plymouth, Wisconsin.)

Tucker’s eyes light up. “Can I go see it?”

“Yes,” I say. “I’ll take you there in the morning. I know the man who runs it, and he might give you a tour.” Now Tucker is excited. For the next hour, we talk about water wasting treatment plants and look at treatment videos on my smartphone.

The next morning, the first words from Tucker are, “Can we go see the water wasting treatment plant?” And so I buckle Tucker and his 4-year-old brother Perrin into their car seats and drive them to the plant, about a mile outside Plymouth along the Mullet River. On the way, I make sure to say that under the very streets we are driving lay the pipes taking sewage to the plant.

In the office, we are greeted by Chris Duwe, lead operator, who kindly gives us permission to walk around the grounds, with just an admonition to “be safe.” I took the boys first to the primary clarifiers. Now, how do you explain wastewater treatment to kids this young? As simply as possible. So, I tell Tucker, “In these tanks, the poop sinks down to the bottom, and then the water flows out over the top.”

The next stop is at the aeration basins, where we meet Tyler Wollersheim, one of two operators on the team, the other being Mike Hoefler. I introduce us and ask Tyler to explain what is happening in the swirling brown water full of tiny bubbles. “Here we pump in air,” he says, “so the little bugs can breathe and eat up the bad stuff that’s left in the water.”

“You can only see them through a microscope,” Tucker observes — something he had learned from me the evening before.

And Tyler responds, “He’ll make a good operator someday.”

Next I take the boys to the final clarifiers and tell how the bugs sink to the bottom and the clean water flows out the top. I also show them the Capstone Turbine Corp. microturbines that burn the plant’s biogas. Nearby, Tucker spies, and is fascinated with, the “sewage truck” that applies biosolids to farm fields. Perrin notes, “It smells bad.”

At that point, Mike Penkwitz, plant superintendent, came out to greet us. I had met Mike at an operator conference in Plymouth about a year earlier. He shows the boys the tertiary filter building, the lab, the SCADA system and a few other highlights.

Tucker is attentive throughout. Mike tells Tucker that if not for the treatment plant, all the sewage would go into the Mullet River and people would get sick. “And the fish would be harmed,” Tucker adds. So true.

He left with that bit of knowledge — and also that the “water wasting treatment plant” makes three things: clean water, fertilizer and electricity. For a 6-year-old, that’s enough. In fact, I’m sure it’s more than many adults know. Tucker couldn’t wait to tell his mom and dad what he had seen, and he made sure to mention that, “The man with the white hair showed us around.”

The lesson: It’s never too early to teach kids about water and wastewater. Tucker was fascinated, Perrin mildly entertained. They may soon forget what they learned, but as Mike Penkwitz told me, they can always come back for a refresher.


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