Last year more than 200 people, many of them children, took an hour or more out of a Saturday to tour, seemingly, one of the least likely Warwick attractions – the waste water treatment plant, …
Last year more than 200 people, many of them children, took an hour or more out of a Saturday to tour, seemingly, one of the least likely Warwick attractions – the waste water treatment plant, more commonly called the sewer plant.
This year Betty Anne Rogers, executive director of the Warwick Sewer Authority, plans on a bigger turnout for tours on Saturday, April 29 starting at 10 a.m. and running to 1 p.m. In fact, she’s got a bet with her peer wastewater operators that Warwick will get the largest turnout of any municipality. The tours at East Providence on April 24, Quonset on April 26, Westerly on April 27 and Providence (Narragansett Bay Commission) on April 29 are in recognition of National Clean Water Week.
And what on earth would have a kid interested in looking at a series of larger than swimming pool tanks with bubbling murky water giving off an unpleasant odor?
How about the Muffin Monster, asks Rogers?
The cartoon character of the monster is a toothy M&M shaped blob with a wide smile and big eyes who is ready to start eating. In reality the monster living in one of the chambers below a service building is a set of intermeshing metal teeth that can effectively chew up just about everything arriving at the treatment plant. It is used should the settling tanks be off line, a “backup” says Rogers who is building in redundancies should there be a failure in the process. The objective is to release as clean as possible into the Pawtuxet River.
There’s no better way to illustrate what the does than the glasses of water illustrating various steps in the process. The first glass could be a chocolate milkshake only you don’t even want to touch it, no less drink it. After settling out solids and million of microbes feasting on nutrients, the water is still cloudy. There’s more processing and filtering to come. The tour provides an up close view of the unpaid workers – those microbes – doing a major portion of the job. Aerators keep them moving.
From prior tours Rogers knows taking a single drop of wastewater and putting under a microscope can be a revelation to visitors. They’ll get to see the “bugs” that do a bulk of the cleaning and not just a couple but scores from that one drop.
Usually visitors also get to see several unplanned performers to highlight the quality of the work done by the authority.
“You know the water is clean when they’re ducks (swimming) in the clarifier (pool) ,” said Rogers.
The tour is more than show. Rogers has planned for it to be interactive. There’s a scavenger hunt where kids get to check off equipment like the Muffin Monster as well as items, such as a beakers they’ll see in the laboratory on sheets handed them at the beginning of the tour. Completed sheets make them eligible for swag from hats to lightsabers. There will also be food and drinks.
In the event of inclement weather, the open house and tour will be held May 6.
And what will Rogers get to take home if the Warwick turnout is the state’s largest.
“Bragging rights,” she says. But it’s more than that. Attendees will get to see what taxpayers have invested in to ensure cleaning when the water from their clothes and dishwashers, a shower and a flushed toilet goes down the drain. Rogers even puts in a plug for what it costs a homeowner, observing that her quarterly utility bill is equivalent to her monthly bill for internet and television service.
“You’re getting all that for a third of everything else.”