Touring the Sewage Treatment Plant


            I am taking the class English 181b which is an adventure lit class offered at Penn State where we venture to places that connect with what we our learning in class. Our latest field trip was to the State College sewage treatment plant, University Joint Association, where we were given a tour by the manger, Art, and spoken to about how the plant works.

            I will fully admit that I was nervous about going; I fully admit to being a girly girl and spending an hour or so touring the place where all people's waste from this area goes sounded smelly and unfortunate. Now I am not going to lie, it smelled, not unbearably, but I actually found the tour very engaging, the sewage treatment plant is actually doing many high tech things.

            The first building we ventured into was where the sewage water was being filter through these tubes (each tube worth about $1,000) that had a sort of microfiber inside of them that cleaned/strained the water that went through it. In the back of the room there is a computer set up that monitors all the machines in the plant and actually controls all of them. During our tour we were shown how they monitor how clean the tubes are, that there number on the screen when said 15 must be changed. When he was showing us the middle section was showing the number 14 so he said that meant tomorrow they would need to be changed (meaning almost $90,000 worth of new equipment would be used tomorrow). This is not all that the water goes through he said it also is it with ultraviolet light to separate the particles and previously to what we were seeing it had already been strained between solids and liquids and went through machines that used processes such as light and chlorine to separate the water (this is clear because it went from mucky brown water to clear).


            One could tell that Art was very proud of what they were doing at the plant. During the beginning of the tour he was prefacing what he was going to show us and he said that the plant is allotted 9 million gallons but due to regulation they are only allowed to dump 7 gallons into the river. They needed to figure out what to do with the rest of the of the waste they had. This is when they hired engineers to create a way to turn this waste into water that could be used to within the community. Currently the plant's water they produce is feeding the stream at the bottom of their property as well as the wetlands on their property and that's not all. The water is being used in local hotels pools and for dishes and laundry machines. He also spoke of a few other different places using their water lines for example the gold course uses their water to water the courses grass.

            Since this is before I had seen anything the plant does my first thought was I am never, ever swimming in that pool. As we went through the tour though I saw how clean this water really was getting; he even said that it is actually cleaner than the water we actually use in State College, but it is plain and simple that people just cannot get past that it is poop water and therefore do not want it to be classified as drinking water.

            When I shower or do the dishes or use the restroom to me that water and the waste I am producing was just gone. I never thought about the fact that it had to go somewhere, and that it was someone's problem to deal with. Even if I had though I now I could have never guessed how much science has gone into making our sewage benefit the environment and be safe to reuse. Art said that they even have 2 million fresh gallons of water stored in case of emergencies, such as if the fire department needed to pull water from it.

            He walked us down to the river that their water was feeding to and gallons and gallons of water was being pours into it, which opposed to the wetlands where it was almost just a constant trickle feeding into it. There plans for the future is to expand, apparently there is a stream next to IHOP that goes dry during the summer season, last year people had to save the trout in it because there was not enough water for them to survive, and they want to pipe and keep that stream active. In that direction they also want to create a wetland with their excess water; he says everything they are doing is in attempt to give back to the community and environment.

            The thing I thought that was really interesting that he was that through looking at the sewage in State College he can actually infer life at State College. He said Christmas day is the day when sewage produced is the lowest; he also said that breaks he can tell how many people left because the numbers drastically drop. Laughing he said he can even tell when it was a particularly fun night at Penn State! How weird that our sewage is telling our story!!


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