Tours and Activities Give Residents New Appreciation for Wastewater Treatment

The Illinois village of Carol Stream draws up to 300 visitors each year to an open house with treatment plant tours and activities for all ages.

Tours and Activities Give Residents New Appreciation for Wastewater Treatment

Residents enjoyed walking through a 1-acre decommissioned parcel that has been converted to a native planting/pollinator meadow. It includes a walking path, educational signage and benches.

An annual fall open house at the Water Reclamation Center in Carol Stream, Illinois, has been a popular attraction for the past 20 years.

Last October, some 300 community members attended to enjoy various festivities and learn about wastewater treatment operations. The event draws people of all ages, some who come every year and always some new faces. Plant staff, Mayor Frank Saverino and village trustees were on hand to greet visitors throughout the four-hour event.

“A lot of people take their water for granted,” says Phil Modaff, Public Works director. “When they come to the open house and see the wastewater treatment process and what is involved, they gain a new appreciation for how critical sanitary sewer service is. They see firsthand how serious we take this work and that we are spending sewer revenues in an effective and efficient manner. They see how we are all in this together to protect our environment.”

Hitting the hay

Carol Stream, population 40,000, contracts with Jacobs Engineering Group for operation and management of the Water Reclamation Center. The facility has a design dry-weather flow of 6.5 mgd and treats an average of about 5.5 mgd. In 2018, the facility was named Plant of the Year by the Fox Valley Operators Association. It also received the George W. Burke Jr. Facility Safety Award from the Water Environment Federation and the Treatment Facility Operations Award from the Central States Water Environment Association.

The open house, on the first Saturday in October, is a source of fun and education. Activities vary from year to year, but the hayride tour for children and families is always popular. “People line up for 10 to 15 minutes for the hayride,” Modaff says. “It includes a guided tour around the outside of the plant where they can see all of the major infrastructure.”  

“If people want a more detailed, close-up look, a guided walking tour is also offered. The walking tour includes a visit to the lab, where visitors get to see the biology of the plant firsthand and see the testing that’s done to ensure compliance with regulations.”

Equipment and exhibits

The Touch-A-Truck event is popular with the children. Each year the Public Works staff exhibits a variety of trucks and equipment so the attendees can learn about all the vehicles and their purpose in providing Public Works services. Vehicles displayed have included snowplows, dump trucks, large tractors and a flusher vacuum truck.

Weather permitting, and if a pilot is available, a mosquito abatement contractor has also flown in with a helicopter that visitors can climb around and explore. The pilot also passes out literature about procedures to help control the local mosquito population.

The event offers other exhibits in the administration building and outdoors. Partner agencies include an animal rescue organization that saves injured wildlife, such as owls and turtles captured in people’s yards. The library shares books on the environment.

Other exhibitors have included a composting company, a watershed improvement group, a conservation foundation and the local electric utility. Sam Barghi, management analyst, coordinates the displays and brings in fresh attractions. This year the Illinois Section American Water Works Association provided a mobile display on the advantages of drinking tap water over bottled water.

Giveaways to attendees include pumpkins, taffy apples and chocolates made by a retired police sergeant from the village. There’s also a free drawing for a rain barrel donated by a conservation agency that promotes collection of rainwater runoff from the house for reuse.

Family affair

The event also includes tours of a native vegetation meadow that the village and Jacobs worked together to create on an abandoned acre of land at the treatment plant. It serves as a pollination site for bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. Walking trails and benches allow nature lovers to sit and observe the beauty around them.

Through grants from various donors, the site has become an outdoor education museum of sorts, with signage and placards about the plants, wildlife and environmental benefits of the meadow. Walking trails made of mulch from trees removed from public properties are open to the public year-round.

While families make up a large share of open house attendees, a special member of the treatment plant family attended the event recently. A woman visitor mentioned that her late husband had been one of the first plant operators dating back to 1959. She later brought back his license, and the plant staff framed it and hung it in the facility in his honor.


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