Be a Sewer Hero: Fight Evil Villains

Today’s blog is from Laurie Loftin, who is a not-so-secret Sewer Hero!

Uncle Ben said it best: “With great flushing power comes great responsibility.” Everyone who dreams of being a Sewer Hero is wise to remember this expression.

What is a Sewer Hero? These dedicated individuals fight grime, protect the public, and battle super villains.  Let me introduce you to two of the Sewer Hero’s biggest foes:

The Sewer Hero has many enemies.  Let me introduce you to two of the Sewer Hero’s biggest foes:

The Wicked Wipes Monster

This monster seems harmless. Clever marketing encourages you to welcome it into your home. You find it in a decorative, neat package perfect for brightening the back of the

Wicked Wipes Clog Pipes!

toilet. The soft, fresh scent masks any sense of doo-m that may soon flow. Do not let its quilted softness fool you. Once you flush the Wicked Wipe Monster down a toilet, it has a way of rearing its ugly head right back out of your toilet.  Made from a durable material,  “flushable” wipes do not easily disintegrate in water. Wicked Wipes use their strength to clog pipes. The damage is evident when raw sewage is overflowing in your home, oozing from a manhole cover, or the wipes hinder our equipment at the water reclamation facility.

Be a Sewer Hero!

  • If you use wipes, be it flushable, baby, cleaning, or make-up remover wipes, put these in the trash, not the toilet.
  • Instead of using wipes, keep a small spray bottle of water by the toilet. When the time comes, fold your toilet paper into a neat square and spritz it with the water bottle. You have made a homemade wipe that cleans and flushes easily.

The Grease Menace

Yuuuummm, bacon. Who doesn’t love the meat candy? The only problem with bacon is the grease it leaves behind. It is a menace. It will try to deceive you. At a hot

The Grease Menace Stinks!

temperature, the grease looks like a liquid one can easily pour down the drain. Don’t fall into its greasy trap. Once it goes down the drain, this shape shifter attaches itself to the sides of the pipe. As more fats from items such as peanut butter, sour cream, and ranch dressing flow past, they join forces to form a league of Grease Menaces, aka FOG (Fats, Oils, & Greases). The result is a nasty FOG Clog. Nothing can get past the putrid plug it creates. When you see the items you flushed down your drain or toilet start to reappear in your home, you will know the mark of the Grease Menace.

Be a Sewer Hero!

  • NEVER pour used cooking fats, oils, or grease down the drain. Let these cool and put them in the trash.
  • Wipe out empty containers of high-fat foods. Wipe off plates covered in dressings. Do you have a dog? Let Fido do some pre-washing of your dishes.
  • Recycle used cooking oils. In Athens, GA, our Recycling Center, Landfill, and the North and Middle Oconee Water Reclamation Facilities have oil drop-off containers. The used oils are recycled and turned into biodiesels.  Drop them off!

I hope you can see how easy it is to be a Sewer Hero.  You don’t have to be bitten by a radioactive spider. There is no need to practice landing after a jump from a tall building.  No special costume is required.   The only gadget needed is a trash can to put the wipes and used cooking FOG into.

I ask you to accept this responsibility.  In turn, you keep your headquarters clean and our city flowing.  The power to be a Sewer Hero is within everyone.  Once you choose to do so, you will discover it is flushing awesome!

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Water You Think About Reuse?

Water You Think About Reuse?

wh-1Emory University has an on-site water recycling system unlike any other in the nation. Emory’s WaterHub uses sustainable technology which mimics natural processes to clean wastewater for non-potable uses such as heating and cooling, irrigation, and toilet flushing. Team Water from the Athens-Clarke County Water Conservation Office took a trip to Atlanta, GA for a sneak peak of the Hub’s inner-workings. Let’s dive in to the details!

Wastewater Source

The water treated at the WaterHub is diverted from an on-campus sewer pipe to the greenhouse portion of the water reclamation site. The water gets screened to remove any non-bio-degradables then goes through additional cleaning processes.

Hydroponic Treatment System

wh-4A variety of low-maintenance tropical plants are featured in the greenhouse. Their dense root systems are submerged in the wastewater and provide excellent habitat for waste-treating microorganisms to thrive. Microorganisms play a huge role in reclaiming wastewater; by consuming excess nutrients, they biologically purify the water. It is extremely important to maintain an environment that is beneficial to the microorganisms so they can break down pollutants in the water. In addition to clinging onto plant roots, microorganisms benefit from the added surface area of a BioWeb textile media (shown to the left) and honeycomb-shaped plastic pellets that move freely in the water as biofilm carriers. Microorganisms work efficiently to break down organic waste when given appropriate living conditions.

Reciprocating Wetland Technologywh-5

Tidal marsh ecosystems are mimicked at the WaterHub to provide alternating anoxic and aerobic treatment conditions. Wastewater is filled and drained in adjacent bio-cells that contain gravel. The gravel serves as microorganism habitat during this stage. The recurrent fill-and-drain sequence allows control of microbial processes.

Clarifying, Filtering, & Disinfecting

After the microorganisms complete their part of the treatment, the nearly-clean water flows to a clarifier tank and disk filter where any remaining solids, nutrients, and color are removed from the water. Some microorganisms are taken from the clarifier tank and relocated to the beginning of treatment where they repeat the process of breaking down bio solids and sludge. Once the water flows over the disk filters, only trace amounts of microorganisms remain. Ultraviolet disinfection disrupts the DNA of remaining microorganisms, making the water safe to use for non-potable demands. The ready-to-use water is delivered through a series of purple pipes to differentiate the supply from wastewater and drinking water.

Recycling Water Is A No-Brainer!

Custom, satellite wastewater reclamation facilities like the Emory WaterHub are efficient and cost-effective. Water naturally recycles in the environment, but why not extend the life cycle of water even further like the WaterHub does? On-site water reclamation reduces withdrawals from sensitive ecosystems and eliminates a significant portion of the water distribution system, thus reducing a community’s carbon and water footprints.

Let’s get on board with sustainable water reuse and make a greater effort to use water wisely! For more information about the WaterHub and Sustainable Water, visit here.

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Today’s blog was written by Emily Bilcik, Graduate Assistant at the WCO.

Catch 5 Pokémon at a Water Reclamation Facility

Today’s blog is written by Laurie Loftin, who has no background in protozoology or official Pokémon training.

A Spearow Pokémon caught at the clarifying basin.

A Spearow Pokémon caught at the clarifying basin.

Want to catch a Pokémon?  You can find BILLIONS of Pokémon at our water reclamation facilities.  OK, maybe they are not true Pokémon, but microorganisms are pretty close.  Like pocket monsters, they are hard to see, but once you start to look through a microscope you realize they are all around you.

The water reclamation operators act as the microorganisms trainers.  They help these little guys grow, thrive, and evolve into stronger and more experienced microogranisms.  They use these “good” bugs to fight against “villains” lurking in our waters. The result is a collection of micro-monsters who do battle to protect our water.

Here are some of the real life mircoorganisms that could pass as Pokémon swimming in the waters at our water reclamation facility.

 

Keratella Rotifer

Keratella
Type: Metazoa; Phylum: Rotifera

Rotifer “Pokémon” are the workhorse of the activated sludge treatment process. They are multi-celled animals that feed on things like bacteria and algae, helping to keep bacteria levels in check.  Many have a corona near their mouth that looks like a spinning wheel. It gives the rotifer the ability to suck particles out of the water and into their waiting mouth.  Pretty cool.

paramecium

Paramecium
Type: Protozoa ; Phylum: Ciliophora

No, “paramecium” is not Latin for two mice.  It is a slipper-shaped single-celled organism with a hairy coat of cilia that propels the paramecium through the waters in a corkscrew-fashion.  This little guy may lack eyes, ears, and a heart, but it is a trainer’s go-to-bug for controlling algae, bacteria, and other protists it finds floating nearby.

 


Amoeba
Type: Protozoa; Phylum: Lobosa

It may be the most primitive single-celled protozoa, but don’t let this fool you. Its ability to transform its shape and color makes this would be Pokemon harder to catch than others. That is if you are another microorganism hoping to eat an amoeba. Operators like this guy for the information it can share about the water. If large amounts of amoeba are counted in a sample, it could mean a large presence of particulate matter, lack of oxygen in the water, or a shock load of BOD.

vorticella15

Vorticella
Type: Protozoa; Phylum: Ciliophora

These single-cell protozoa are one of the higher life forms found in our facilities. They have important abilities, like forming floc, removing floating particles from the water, and controlling bacteria levels.  This stalked ciliate’s body is covered in cilia, which assists them in swimming, crawling, sensing, and eating.

water bear

Water Bear
Type: Metazoa; Phylum: Tardigrades

The water bear is by far the cutest of all the microorganism swimming about our flush waters. They are also the most bad-a**. They can survive being boiled, frozen, in a vacuum, or exposed to radiation. We all need water, but these little guys can go a decade without it and still survive! In our sludge, they help out by eating the microorganisms easily tempted to join a villain team.

I admit, the capture of these microorganisms won’t help you complete your Pokédex, but the water reclamation facility does prove to be the ultimate gym for these bug types to fight.  And the best part is the battle ends with a better environment and clean water in both augmented reality and reality.  Wishing you luck on your quest to try and catch ’em all.

Water and Oil: Archenemies

This week’s blog was written by Camilla Sherman, WCO intern and oil obstructer 

We learn in science class that water and oil do not mix. The two just don’t seem to get along. Not only do water and oil not mix chemically, they also should not be mixed for many other reasons too.hydrophobic oil

Oil Spills

Throughout history, as a species, humans always want more. This especially applies to wanting more access to oil to help run more and more luxury items of today’s society. The first item that pops into mind is the car, but other items that utilize fossil fuels include: planes, heating systems for our homes, plastics, medicines, shoes, toothpaste, TVs, etc. This is a huge list that goes on for what seems like forever. Our high demand for more of these products has led to more oil rigs that are extracting more oil than ever. One of the big problems that comes along with this oil economy is oil spills.

oil in ocean

Oil from a tanker on a beach in Wales, 1996

When oil first spills into the ocean, it forms an oil slick on the top of the water that is spread by waves, water currents, and wind force. But what happens to the oil while it sits in the water? Some oil types will partially evaporate, however, the left behind oil is much more dense and viscous than before. Depending on the type, oil can sometimes disperse into the water and become seemingly invisible or it may form a thick mousse with the water. A part of the oil may sink, but the remainder will eventually congeal into tar balls.

Once the oil reaches the coast, it begins to interact with the beach sand and other sediments, plants, and above ground habitats for both humans and wildlife. Oil on the shore causes erosion and contamination of everything it touches.

The effects of oil on marine life are devastating. Oil destroys the insulating ability of mammals with fur, like sea otters, and the water repellancy of feathers for birds. This exposes these creatures to the harsh elements and can lead to death from hypothermia. Wildlife may also ingest the poisonous oil while cleaning themselves. If the oil becomes mixed in the water column, it can harm fish and shellfish as well. These creatures experience bodily malfunctions and their egg and larva survival drops.

oil bird

A bird covered in fuel oil from a tanker spill sits on the beach near Mallipo, South Korea, Dec. 8, 2007. (AP Photo/ Korean Federation for Environmental Movement, HO)

Luckily, there are heroes out there who are constantly working hard to clean-up after oil spills, not unlike our Athens water reclamation heroes. Some are specialist who know how to properly clean off marine animals and return them to their homes in the ocean. There are also specialists that work on removing the oil from the ocean waters. The workers may try to contain the spill and then use skimmers to get the oil slick off of the top of the water or they may work to speed up the biodegradation process of the oil. Recovery rates of an ecosystem after a spill vary depending on the type of oil, how much oil was spilled, the type of climate in the area, and other factors. As a reference, the residue of the Exxon Valdez oil spill on the Alaskan coast happened 25 years ago and there is still oil on the beach scientists say will be there for decades to come.

Oil From Society

The oil waste in the ocean comes from many other sources besides oil spills. Most of the oil in our oceans is oily stormwater drainage from human waste. This comes from cities, farms, unregulated boating, and untreated waste disposal from factories. Approximately 706 million gallons of waste oil ends up in the ocean each year, and over half is from these sources and the careless use of oil and oil products.

develop Cali port-oil

This busy California port shows one source of oil in coastal waters. Notice the dark spot in the foreground.

Oil in Our Pipes

Not unlike the problems oil causes in the ocean and on our beaches, it causes problems in our pipes too. It is hard to think about what happens to the oils that we put down our sinks once they wash away because we can no longer see them. The oils are out of sight and out of mind. To end this blog, I want to remind everyone that this is what can happen when you put your oils down the drain. Remember, put your fats and oils into the trash, not down the drain!

fog clog

This is a clog in a water pipe. Oil clogs cause sewage back-ups into your homes and costly repair bills.

This picture above is of a FOG clog. FOG stands for fats, oils, and grease. These are the 3 big no-nos to consider when cleaning up after a meal and washing things down the drain. The oils may start as a liquid but they will solidify in the pipes. FOG coats the pipes and causes other debris to stick in the pipe, leading to a clog. The workers at the Athens water reclamation facilities work hard to clean up our water before it goes back into the river and eventually becomes drinking water again. Let’s try to make their jobs easier by thinking about what we are putting down our drains!

Hello. It’s Me.

This week’s blog was written by WCO graduate assistant and Adele-fan Lily Cason.

Have you seen Saturday Night Live’s recent skit about how Adele’s song “Hello”* can keep your family from fighting at Thanksgiving?

 

In the video a family gets into some conversation minefields, but the holiday spirit is saved when the family is united by their love of Adele. We all love Adele. Her single “Hello” has reached #1 on the charts in 28 countries and became the first song ever to have more than 1 million digital sales in a week. Adele seems to be universally loved and appreciated.

But “#1” doesn’t just apply to music. There’s another thing that unites us all: water. More than 7 billion people use water every day in every country around the world. I was wondering if maybe water could unite our families at Thanksgiving as well.

Hello from the other siiiide! Those of us who work for water utilities have a special glimpse into a hidden world. In the time that I have been working for the ACC Public Utilities Department, I have learned so much about our infrastructure and the issues we deal with in the water world. I often joke that this job has ruined my life, because I am now obsessed with scraping my dishes clean so as not to send clog-producing fats, oils, and grease down the drain. I make sure to only flush the 4 Ps (Poo, Pee, Puke, and toilet Paper) and throw floss and tissues in the trash instead. I refuse to leave a restaurant water glass without drinking all of the water in it (water conservation and hydration win!). I turn the faucet off while brushing my teeth. I use grey water to water my plants.

Why do I do all of these things? Because I am so grateful to have clean water. In the United States we are lucky to have clean drinking water and wastewater treatment that keeps our waterways clean. So I do what I can to help maintain these systems that I feel so lucky to have. Part of that means sharing what I’ve learned. At the Water Conservation Office we lead tours of our facilities, talk about water in school programs, and post to social media to share what we know.

My friends and family may get tired of hearing about my Adele and water obsessions, but at least I can say that I’ve tried (too much?).

I encourage you to share what you know about water with your loved ones this Thanksgiving. Whether you talk about how to handle the grease left over from your delicious holiday cooking (eg. don’t pour it down the drain), how the water bears that help clean our wastewater can survive in outer space (!), the 2.5 billion people in the world who don’t have access to improved sanitation, or whatever else you find interesting.  Remind your loved ones to conserve and appreciate our water resources because it’s no secret that the both of us…are running out of time.

When my family goes around the table on Thursday to say what we are thankful for, I will definitely say: Adele.

And water too, of course. 🙂

* Here is the original music video for Adele’s “Hello” in case you missed it

6 Reasons to Give Tours of Water Reclamation Facilities

This week’s blog is written by Laurie Loftin, a frequent docent of our fecal galleries

MOC 1

Show off all things shiny at your water reclamation facility. These help to keep foul odors away.

Raw sewage.  Wastewater.  Septic tank sludge.  I admit, not one of these words gets me very excited, much less makes
me want to go and look at this…stuff.  However, I invite people at least once a quarter to come and do just that with a visit to a site full of this “product”.  And every time I put out an open invitation, a group of folk signs up to come look, listen, and smell.

I work for a public utility department responsible for managing three water reclamation facilities.  Each location has dedicated workers who question the sanity of those who want to come for a tour.  I can’t answer why people want to visit, but I can give reasons as to why we, as a utility, should continue to invite them as a guest.

20150806_095729

This group not only supported a good cause with their visit, but said they found the tour very educational and interesting.

1.  The public asks to come.  Really!  They do!  We offer educational opportunities to college students in engineering, science education, environmental design, and other water studies.  A UGA art class looking for “water in motion” used our influent as inspiration during their study of aqueous media.  Elementary teachers introduce their students to the beneficial side of decomposers and microorganisms in action.  Parents can show their curious child what happens to the water (or toy, money, jewelry, etc.) after it goes down the drain or toilet.  Couples create lasting and romantic memories while on a Valentine’s Day tour.  We even participated in  “The World’s Largest and Greatest Scavenger Hunt the World has Ever Seen“, which is a global charity event.  Participants marked off “visit a wastewater facility in formal wear and take a photo of one of them playing a flute.”  (As I said, I can’t answer why they want to come.  Who could ever see this coming as a reason?)

2. The Environmental Protection Division “suggests” it, so I guess you could say we are required to give tours.  In Georgia, we must fill out an annual report to keep our permit.  The report includes a section entitled, “Summary of Public Participation Activities”.  Tours fall into this category and are one way to help us complete this specific requirement.

help-wanted-sign-1isp2ac

Everyone will always need water and create wastewater. What other field provides as much job security as water? Apply today!

3.  Allows for recruitment.  Many of today’s operators are reaching an age when retirement starts to look pretty enticing. With computers as the competition, the younger generation isn’t necessarily moving in to quickly fill these openings.  A visit to the world of wastewater introduces students to career options they may never have considered.  On several occasions, after a tour with an animated and excited operator, children have told me “this is where I am going to work one day.”  The older college students inquire about internship opportunities. The engineering students learn how to design a WRF and may decide to pursue water infrastructure as their specialty after seeing firsthand the operations of such a facility.

4.  Provides you with a captive audience.  Take this time to educate your visitors about the proper disposal of FOG, the history of wastewater treatment, and the 4 P’s of flushing.  Show a display of individual containers with one holding wipes, another with toilet paper, and yet another with paper towels submerged in water.  This visual effectively illustrates the incredible durability of a premoistened wipe and results in amazed looks and comments from your gathering.  Explain how using water efficiently reduces the wear and tear on the parts of a WRF, thus lessening the need to replace parts and helps to keep their bills lower.  Once in this industry, much of this information is common sense; to the public, it is all brand new and valuable knowledge.

5.  Brings the hidden infrastructure above ground.  How many miles of water pipes are under the ground in your city?  Athens, GA has almost 800 miles.  If laid end to end, these pipes would reach to New York City.  We have an additional 500 miles in sewer pipes.  This distance would take you to the Magical Kingdom in Orlando, FL.  People rarely give much thought to the amount of  infrastructure necessary to carry out our basic daily needs.  With pipes across the nation reaching the end of their useful life, the time for replacement is near and the cost for this undertaking will be enormous.  Tours offer a chance to enlighten and remind guests of the importance of our water systems.  They gain a small insight into what it takes to provide reliable wastewater service.

Zebra 101 disk 352

Smiling faces, past and present, who keep Athens-Clarke County Beautiful.

6.  Gives a face to our workers.  Tours remind the public there are real people working at the other end of the pipes.  Their wastewater doesn’t automagically clean itself before entering back into our water resources.  Someone is there to remove, by hand if necessary, the “flushable” items put down the toilet 7 days a week, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.  Hopefully, this encounter with a smiling face encourages our guests to think both at the sink and before they flush.  We are waiting at the other end.

Tours are not going to change the essence of what our facility does. Let’s face it.  We will always be associated with sewage and sludge, which should not be viewed as a negative.  What a tour can do is remind the public how vital wastewater services are to our economy, the environment, and public health.  Guests see firsthand the power we have to reclaim, refresh, and return clean water to the source.  They offer us a chance to change public perception.  People are welcome and expected to arrive at our locations saying “Ewww.”  But when they leave, I want them saying “Aaah.”

Use a Clothespin to Treat Wastewater

This week’s blog is by Laurie Loftin, Program Specialist with Water Conservation Office

Imagine yourself wanting to collect and treat up to 28 million gallons of wastewater a day.  What would you need to do this?  Obviously you need some pipes to get the dirty water from point A to B.  Maybe you would want some type of strainer like you use to separate the water from the spaghetti.  Perhaps a clothespin to place on your nose.  Why are you wanting to do this again?

Bruce Perkins, NO Inventory Control Tech

Bruce keeps up with the inventory for our water reclamation facilities.

Treating wastewater is a complex process that requires many moving parts.  The system is in action 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, so it demands continuous maintenance and repair work.  When something stops working as it should, quick repair is critical – especially in the event of a sewage spill, which can contaminate the environment and impact the health of our citizens.   It is important we have all the necessary parts on hand to quickly make repairs and keep our wastewater system running smoothly.  In Athens, GA it is the responsibility of our inventory control technicians, Kevin and Bruce, to ensure that all necessary parts are available at a moments notice.

Kevin is responsible for the many components needed for sewer lines. Bruce focuses his efforts on equipment and supplies used in our water reclamation facilities. They inspect all incoming shipments for correct contents and price before moving the items into the warehouse by forklift. They keep the warehouse carefully organized, allowing for accurate tracking of stock locations and levels. When something is needed for heavy equipment repair or the water reclamation plants and pump stations, Kevin and Bruce quickly and efficiently disperse the parts.

Kevin Bright, W&S Inventory Control Tech

The inventory for our sewer lines is kept in check by Kevin.

Maintaining an essential supply of equipment and parts can be expensive. Kevin and Bruce work every day to locate the best prices to help keep costs low and wastewater treatment affordable for all of us who depend on wastewater services. Providing cost-conscious, dependable inventory control that is essential for reliable wastewater services and safeguarding our public health is what our inventory technicians do everyday.

Kevin and Bruce, if you ever need any help finding inexpensive colanders or clothespins for treating up to 28  million gallons of wastewater, let me know and I’ll see what I can do.  Until then, know that you two are unsung heroes to the people in Athens-Clarke County.