They're Never Too Young: Taking My Grandsons to the 'Water Wasting Treatment Plant'

They're Never Too Young: Taking My Grandsons to the 'Water Wasting Treatment Plant'

Tucker Kulow (right) and brother Perrin. (Photo By Ted J. Rulseh)

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On a recent visit with my grandsons, 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 asked.

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

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

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

“Yes,” I said. “I’ll take you there in the morning. I know the man who runs it and he might give you a tour.”

Now Tucker was excited. For the next hour, we talked about water wasting treatment plants and looked at treatment videos on my smart phone.

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

In the office, we were greeted by lead operator Chris Duwe, who kindly gave us permission to walk around the grounds, cautioning us 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. “In these tanks the poop sinks down to the bottom, and then the water flows out over the top,” I told Tucker.

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

Tucker had learned from me the evening before just how small the little bugs are. “You can only see them through a microscope,” he observed.

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

Next, I took the boys to the final clarifiers and explained how the bugs sink to the bottom and the clean water flows out the top. I also showed them the Capstone microturbines that burn the plant’s biogas. Nearby, Tucker spied, and was fascinated with, the “sewage truck” that applies biosolids to farm fields. Perrin noted, “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 showed the boys the tertiary filter building, the lab, the SCADA system, and a few other highlights.

Tucker was attentive throughout. Mike told 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 added. 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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