Creatures From Prehistoric Times Visit a California Clean-Water Facility

Visitors encounter a 30-foot Tyrannosaurus rex at a Goleta Sanitary District treatment plant open house.

Creatures From Prehistoric Times Visit a California Clean-Water Facility

Visitors at the Jurassic Plant Tour greet Zook the Tyrannosaurus rex.

The dinosaurs came forward in time at a Goleta (California) Sanitary District open house last October.

The district held its second Jurassic Plant Tour to educate guests from neighboring communities about wastewater treatment facility operations. The highlight was a 30-foot-tall, inflatable Tyrannosaurus rex.

“The district has been hosting a free open house every other year since 1951,” says Laura Romano, management analyst for the district. “The past two times, we have gone with a dinosaur theme because we know it’s something children can relate to.”

The district, based in Goleta, supports a population of 80,000, has more than 132 miles of sewer pipes and recycles 3 mgd of wastewater for irrigation throughout the area.

Family friendly

The gates opened at 10 a.m. to a crowd that included families with children wearing dinosaur T-shirts. Visitors received backpacks bearing a Jurassic Plant Tour logo. The bags contained fun items such as a plunger pencil, a squishable stress toy in the shape of a toilet, and a dinosaur notepad.

There were also dinosaur-themed bouncy houses, a “Tyranno-Hoe” backhoe made to simulate a dinosaur, and food stations that included “Dino dogs” and “Paleo pizza.” An actor dressed as a dinosaur walked around the grounds and interacted with the guests. In addition, the local Audubon Society displayed a red-tailed hawk.

The event drew about 900 visitors of all ages. The event was promoted through the district’s Facebook page, mailers to customers, press releases, word-of-mouth and a radio station interview. The giant T. rex attracted attention in advance, as the district headquarters is across the street from the Santa Barbara Municipal Airport and down the street from the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Passport to adventure

Each visitor received a passport with seven stops recommended for visits. At each stop, they received a stamp. They got one ticket after collecting four stamps and a second ticket after receiving all seven stamps. The tickets were entered in a drawing for giveaways throughout the day. The seven stops were:

  • A booth where attendees made bracelets with different-colored beads representing steps in the water cycle.
  • A collections department display with demonstrations of a sewer-cleaning truck and a CCTV sewer inspection truck.
  • The power and maintenance building where attendees learned about the treatment process.
  • The recycled water facility where visitors learned how wastewater is turned into irrigation water.
  • A self-guided walking tour of the plant with storyboards featuring a biofilter, methane flare, digester, headworks, odor reduction system and primary clarifier.
  • A lab station where visitors saw a video on organisms from the activated sludge process.
  • A narrated, 10-minute Adventure Tour around the plant with visits from several dinosaurs for the kids.

It takes a village

In a survey, attendees gave overwhelmingly positive feedback, Romano says. Even children made comments on the surveys their parents submitted. The children especially loved the dinosaur theme.

When asked how much they knew about the district before their visit, many said little to nothing. When asked how much education they took away, scores went way up. Visitors also said they would spread the word and recommend the next open house to their neighbors.

Orchestrating the event took a lot of work from numerous sources. Several sponsors donated resources and services. Depending on their support level, sponsors were recognized through signage and handouts and on social media.

About 40 district employees and board members shared their talent to make the event come to life. About 20 more volunteers were recruited and trained to help. “All the decorations and ideas were created by our plant staff,” Romano says. “It was truly a team effort and required great cooperation. The attendees clearly appreciated their hard work and creativity.”



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