Poo and Brew mixes business with pleasure

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You might never think about what happens to the water in your toilet after you flush, but that very quandary fuels an entire industry of engineers, mechanics, scientists and office personnel who populate the wastewater treatment field.

About 25 of these sanitation-minded professionals – young professionals in the field, specifically – joined together for a tour of the Warwick Wastewater Treatment Facility last Thursday to learn from how Warwick tackles the universal problem. But that wasn’t the end of the fun, because the tour ended at Proclamation Ale Company down the road.

The so-called 21st annual “Poo and Brew” – no, we can’t take credit for the name – gives a chance for young professionals in the wastewater treatment business to get together, learn the tricks of the trade and network with their peers.

“It helps that we all like beer,” said Matt Brown, coordinator of the Poo and Brew for the New England Water Environment Association (NEWEA). “Most of us spend our days working in the wastewater industry so is a natural way to get together.”

People came from as far as Washington D.C. to join in the tour that started with an introduction from former Warwick Sewer Authority Director Janine Burke-Wells and current Sewer Authority superintendent (and NEWEA Rhode Island Director) Scott Goodinson. Gwin Cox, lead operator at the treatment facility, also provided his expertise along the way.

The tour showcased a little of everything from the wastewater facility’s extensive operation, from the initial intake of the city’s some 7.7 million gallons per day of wastewater to its multiple stages of treatment, which transforms the dirty sludge back into environmentally responsible water that is tested for various levels of contaminants and chemicals and, once approved, sent back into the Pawtuxet River – though it still isn’t the quality of water you’d want to make a batch of beer with.

The tour presented an opportunity to show those from out of state the high water marks from the infamous 2010 flood that inundated the facility and caused between $14-15 million in damages, most of which was handled through disaster relief and insurance but $400,000 of which was saddled onto Warwick.

“Now we’re ready for the 500-year flood,” Goodinson said of adjustments made to the facility’s levee since the disaster.

From initial treatments with odor masking compounds, the water is sent through channels of churning brown liquid and throughout various treatment processes, all the way to the final step of being treated for phosphorus and then a final measurement before being released into the river. Goodinson held up beakers of water from each step as it transformed from a dingy cup of sewage into crystal clear liquid that sparkled underneath the hot sun above.

Goodinson said that the minimum standard for Carbonaceous biochemical oxygen demand (CBOD), which is a test used to determine safe levels of organic material in wastewater, is 85 percent, and the Warwick facility achieves 99.3 percent removal on any given day.

“We’re really proud of that,” he said. “We have a good team here where everyone is doing their job.”

After the long walk around the facility under the unforgiving July sun, a couple of brews to complement the poo was very much needed and enjoyed by the group.

[Proclamation co-owner] Josh [Karten] is as passionate about beer as we are about what we do,” said Burke-Wells prior to the Poo and Brew starting. “I don’t know if he’d want to sample our products though.”

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