Welcome To My Poop Plant: A Sewage Treatment Photo Tour

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m 1+ points - Newb
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"I work at a poop plant, so I know whereof I speak."

That is my signature on my comments here on the site. When Dave saw it, he emailed me to find out if it was true. Once I replied in the affirmative, he asked if I could write a little about where your gooshy brown babies go after you push the magic chrome lever on your Al Bundy Special Ferguson. So here goes.

I do in fact work at a poop plant: the Everett (Washington) Water Pollution Control Facility (EWPCF). Here's an aerial view from Google Maps.

The big highway to the west is Interstate 5, just north of the Snohomish River Bridge. The plant was first built in 1960 and has been expanded several times since then. Prior to the plant being built, sewage from the city was discharged directly into the Snohomish River and Port Gardner Bay. We are currently under construction for the latest improvement/expansion.

The aeration pond on the south end is 30 acres, the oxidation pond (the big one) is 135 acres, and the polishing pond on the north end is 27 acres. Total volume in all three ponds is about 1325 acre-feet (431,817,500 gallons), and the permitted treatment capacity for the pond system is 15.3 MGD (million gallons per day). My office is in the trailer at the SW corner of the oxidation pond.

If you zoom in to the four round tanks in the lower left corner of the first picture, you can see the other treatment train, the Trickling Filter, Solids Contact (TFSC) system:

The TFSC system is much more economical in land use, but costs more to operate and has fixed flow rates (8 or 16 MGD); so we need the lagoons for surge volume. Sometimes during storms we can peak at over 100 million gallons per day influent flow; without the surge volume we'd have to send untreated wastewater to the river, and no one wants that.

Let's follow your dookie through the system. We'll call him Sam. Sam's first stop is the screw pumps at the headworks, where he's lifted up because almost all the flow from here on is by gravity.

Under those covers are four big (~7 foot diameter) Archimedes screws that lift the raw sewage up to the bar screens.

The four bar screens are designed to take out the big pieces (larger than about 3/4"). This stuff is dropped onto a conveyor that drops it into a bin where dump trucks take it away to a landfill. The stuff can include hunks of wood, balls of grease, more trash and paper than you can imagine...

...and even the occasional critter.

After the bar screens, Sam flows to the grit chambers, where the heavy sand and grit is separated and goes into the hopper with the screenings. You don't want to see the inside of the hopper.

All this equipment used to be open to the sky, but we have covered it all to reduce the odor problems. From here on out, though, there are no covers. The pipes you see above the covers take the stinky air to a compost bed, where it is deodorized. From the grit chambers, the flow goes to the aeration cells, where mixers provide oxygen to the bacteria that do the real work. By providing the bugs with oxygen, they break down the organic material in Sam and his friends into compounds that are much less polluting.

When they have done their job, they die and sink to the bottom, where we dredge them up every couple of years, compost them, and send them off to a tree farm to grow two-by-fours.

While operating a poop plant is dirty and sometimes difficult work, the only reason that human operators are there is to keep the bugs happy, well-fed, and provided with plenty of oxygen. Well, except for the bugs that die with oxygen -- then the humans' job is to keep oxygen away.

By the way -- I am not now, nor have I ever been, a treatment plant operator; I deal with Sam and his friends far upstream in the collection system. But that's another story. Here are a couple of shots of the aeration cells:

As you can see in the first one, the local seagulls treat us like a buffet. After the aeration cells, the partially-treated water (in which Sam has long ago disintegrated into his component parts) flows under the road to the facultative oxidation pond -- the big lagoon. Facultative means that the bacteria living here can metabolize either aerobically or anaerobically. The water isn't mixed, so the top layers stay aerobic because of wind action and the bottom stays anaerobic; so the waste gets further broken down.

In this pond, most of the solids that haven't settled out in the aeration cells drop out; we'll dredge it someday, though it hasn't been dredged since it was built.

Not everything gets caught by the bar screens -- for slender things, it depends on the orientation of the object. For example, this critter managed to make it through:

And, for some reason, Poopettes seem to like to flush these:

We literally have tens of thousands of these beach whistles lying in the rip-rap around the lagoons. And tens of thousands more get screened out of the composted biosolids when we dredge the lagoons. Ladies, these aren't biodegradable and belong in the trashcan, not the toilet. The basics of what should get flushed distills down to this: if you haven't eaten it, or used it to wipe off something you've eaten, it goes in the trash. That also applies to the device that these applicators are designed to insert. Wrap 'em with a wad of Charmin if you are embarrassed by them, but please, please, please don't flush 'em.

After the oxidation pond, the waste flows to the polishing pond, where the smallest solids settle. From there it gets chlorinated to kill pathogens, dechlorinated, and then gets discharged to the Snohomish River, which is about where the wind line is in this picture.

That's the simple side. The TFSC is a more complex system. Currently the TFSC system takes its influent from the first aeration cell through a small bar screen and is pumped to the top of the trickling filters.

Up here, it goes through a set of distributor arms that go around using reaction, just like a garden sprinkler.

From here the wastewater trickles about twenty feet down through corrugated plastic media that has a heavy bacterial mat growing on it. The bacteria colony remains aerobic because air flows up through the media while the wastewater flows down. From the trickling filters, it flows to the aeration basins (the "solids contact" part of TFSC), where it mixes with return activated sludge prior to being aerated. This is where the majority of the bacterial action takes place -- in a conventional activated sludge plant, there are no trickling filters, and all the bugs' work is done here.

From the aeration basins, the wastewater flows to the secondary clarifiers, where the sludge settles to the bottom and the clean water flows out through the troughs called launders. The sludge is scraped off the bottom and part of it is pumped back to the head of the aeration basins (that's the return activated sludge -- so called because the bugs in it are hungry and ready to eat) while the rest is sent to the aeration lagoon to join with the other sludge that's already there awaiting dredging and composting before becoming tree food.

Here's another view of the launder that shows how clean the water is:

From here, the water is chlorinated and then pumped across town...

..to the Kimberly-Clark toilet paper plant (full-circle sorta thing), where it is used as non-contact cooling water before joining with their wastewater and being discharged to Port Gardner Bay -- about where the sailboat is in this photo, around three hundred feet deep. The steam rising in the background is the Kimberly-Clark plant.

That's the quick tour of the poop plant where I work. I've been doing my job for about twenty-five years now, fifteen with Everett; and I really do enjoy my work. In all that time my offices have all been at poop plants. And while there are occasional olfactory assaults, as we say in the business, "Smells like money to me."

139 Comments on "Welcome To My Poop Plant: A Sewage Treatment Photo Tour"

Anonymous's picture

A friend on mine has an even more interesting career. He is a master diver. He is on call 24/7 to go diving into those ponds and tanks to fix something gone wrong or (more likely) fish out something that somebody want to dispose of permanently... like bodies and guns.

Anonymous's picture

Ok, so I tell you to grab the lysol. In the same breath, I admit that I am a proud owner of an iTurd. Oh yes, I had my phone in the bathroom and dropped it in the toilet. It's not what you think though!!!! It was in my coat pocket and in my rush to get to the bathroom so that I could run out the door to my late appointment, it slipped out and plopped right into the blue water (I was at a public place.). Ugghhhh.....

Anonymous's picture

Very high-tech compared to the sewage lagoon I've been to.

Anonymous's picture

Hahaha.....my brother works at a poop plant in Elgin, IL. His stories and pics are just as fun.

Anonymous Coward's picture

Good work. Be proud of your job. Don't take any shit from anybody. Whoops! Ignore that last comment.

ChiliKahKah's picture
j 1000+ points

The Romans would be proud.

marie's picture

In the lagoon which you guys have is that water clean and does it have a working environment or is it just a dead zone because u have been dumping all your filthy waste down there.

Aaron's picture

Wow now I know where sam really goes! Thanks! :)

Anonymous Coward's picture

Hi there,

Could you let me know which company provided those water treatment equipments? thanks,

All the best,

Bill

Anonymous Coward's picture

how can you remove sludge cheap from a sewer lagoon where it has been for fifteen years.

Anonymous Coward's picture

Holy Crap! This is a very informative page. Thanks for answering our question about Sam's travels!

Anonymous Coward's picture

WoW ! i didnt know reality really looked like that!!!!!!! :O

Anonymously Brave's picture

LOL...your pretty humorous. I searched for information so I can do a paper on the local sewage plants needing upgrading. You seem to be the most helpful so far. LOL!

Thanks a bunch.

Very intersting and smart how the plant's operated.

sittingpretty's picture
Comment Quality Moderatori 2000+ points

Very interesting story. I used to find "poopette whistles" along the shores of Lake Pontchartrain not but a few years ago. Raw sewerage is not pumped into the lake any longer. But occasionally I still see them and needles too...as well as mardi gras beads and super balls.
_______
...And their flesh like dung. Zeph. 1:17

...And their flesh like dung. Zeph. 1:17

ChiefThunderbutt's picture
PoopReport of the Year AwardComment Content ModeratorComment Quality Moderatorf 5000+ points

Jennifer.....I hope I fixed your post to your satisfaction....Please get that keyboard fixed before you try another post.


_______
Eat chilies and feel the burn!!

How long a minute is depends on what side of the bathroom door you're on!

jennifer.hatche's picture

My boyfriend is an STW at Newtown Creek in Greenpoint Brooklyn NYC They have been working without a contract for almost 8 yrs. The union is fighting for them but the battle seems endless. Why doesn't anyone realize what an important and truly hazardous job the STW has?
Any ideas how to help him and the guys fight for a fair contract?
I'm just a k-2 special ed art teacher.
Seriously though, they don't even get hazard pay...thanks...jen

michael.k's picture

i work in germany in a wastewater treament plant "Kläranlage", i like your articel very much. i think about working in usa...

daphne's picture
PoopReport of the Year AwardSite AdminComment Content ModeratorComment Quality Moderatore 6000+ points

Oh lookie there, rottweillers and a jackalope. Does the dog like the cats in your videos?

That was a fairly cool video. I especially liked the opening. Thanks for reposting, Bill!


_______
.....hugging bunnies since 1969
www.daphneszoo.com

.....hugging bunnies since 1969
www.daphneszoo.com

Enter The Poop Plant's picture

This is SchenectadyVideos responding again. Click on the Enter The Poop Plant screen name and it will bring you to a page with the Video. More videos of the Schenectady poop plant will be up soon.

this is the page address

http://billzotta.tripod.com/

billville bill zotta

daphne's picture
PoopReport of the Year AwardSite AdminComment Content ModeratorComment Quality Moderatore 6000+ points

Do you know the link to your Youtube account on your website says it's suspended? I found another Youtube account that might be yours, though, and when I tried to view the Poop Plant link, it said that the video is private.

Can you fix it?


_______
.....hugging bunnies since 1969
www.daphneszoo.com

.....hugging bunnies since 1969
www.daphneszoo.com

Schenectady videos's picture

I documented Agent Bill Zotta at work at the Schenectady Poop Plant.
See what happens when Lightning hits The Poop Plant.

http://schenectadyvideo.tripod.com
Search for the Tube Video

"ENTER THE POOP PLANT"

Schenectadyvideos's picture

Great website and Information. To see a 10 video about The Schenectady Water treatment plant go to YouTube and Search for the video
"ENTER THE POOP PLANT"

Teapotwitch's picture

I checked this page to see the truth of the tampon problem, I always thought it was a scam by the water board to save having to buy better machinery, I will break this habit, i need a habit to break, and get rid of some of the concrete in my head, wait til i meet the next man i find out is flushing his problem down the loo. thank you for a very informative site.

baron von crapalot's picture
k 500+ points


Great report, very interesting and informative. You should consider making a short film. I have heard that there are a great number of tomato plants to be found in and around these shit farms, aparently we dont digest the seeds, so thats where they end up. I digress, Anyhoo, a great read, thanks a lot.

_______
like a constipated accountant- I worked it out with a pencil.

I hope to god I've just sat in a Shepard's pie.

BigSteamer's picture

wow, i am really impressed that you were able to make a turd's final moments seem so interesting. i felt like i was reading the transcript of a pbs documentary. i guess nothing is really simple, not even taking a dump.

Anonymous Coward's picture

I was wondering about cardboard applicator (beach whistles) what happens to them? Are they biodegradable? You shouldn't flush a used tampon? Do you know what effect this has on our water?
Please get back to me if you know, I'm writing a paper on ecofeminism and I am interested in ecological ways of dealing with these nasty sponges. THANKS GREAT SITE TOO

GottaGoGirl's picture
i 2000+ points

Old Sea Dog, that's a good question. Until an individual's own toilet backs up with a mountain of latex, they may not believe the problem exists.

I can't get GottaMan to stop flushing Q-tips and dental floss...

Miss Simone Scat's picture
k 500+ points

That was a great report. I am always learning something on PR.
Producing waste since 1967

Producing waste since 1967

old sea dog's picture

For years the accepted disposal of used condoms has been flushing down toilet. Most people know this works perfectly well and toilets don't explode or plug up from flushed condoms. How do you propose reeducating all the millions of condom users?

SSpiffy's picture
m 1+ points - Newb

Well, the SSpiffyPoo login isn't working.

I need to update the tour, we just finished a $40M upgrade to the plant with the Official Open House next week. I need to take photos and write a new narrative, many things have been changed.

More to come.

poopin 24/7's picture

I found thisw very informative. I found this site after googling "poop plant"- I needed to know the workings of a poop plant for a class and i missed the tour of the local system and the powerpoint they gave me wasn't even worthy of being called shitty. Now I know how a poop plant works (honestly the teacher has it written in the grade book as "poop plant quiz" and this is a 10th-12th grade class. Something to do with having to take his kid along on the trip when he was little and had to explain it to him. His "kid" graduated from school this year.) My grade thanks you for coming up with this ingeneous tour!

Uk Turd Warrior's picture

How the hell does everything look so clean? No weeds on the filters? liked the beach whistle phrase lol. here in the UK we still use shovels mate! ya carnt beat getting called out at 2.00am to macerators failed, then jumping in and "getting stuck in" No digesters? no combined heat and power generators?

TIP: applicators (beach whistles) can be washed, painted or varnished then decorated and sold as finger puppets at craft fairs (somewhere that nobody knows you)

Aroma's picture

Brilliant. Thanks for the info.
As for the beach whistle bitches, their ignorance and stupidity frightens me. Can they learn anything beyond fashion and food? Unbelievable.

fartqueen's picture
m 1+ points - Newb

WOW,that was cool!I wish you could take me on a real tour of this poopy plant!Or maybe a virtual tour of some kind?This was very educational!

ally smells's picture

I agree that girls should be made more aware about flushing tampons and their related packaging down the toilet, as this is one of the biggest problems facing treatment plants; but I would like to point out that if boys used condoms as much as girls use tampons it would probably be a bigger problem, so females shouldn't be labbeled stupid or lazy, as some male commentators on this site have been doing!

Layperson's picture

Accidently found this site while searching for a plant. Read the whole thing. Very informative. I was putoff by the first response, stating that women had concrete for brains. What about all the condomns that get flushed. I had to replace a septic tank due to this a few years ago. Thanks for putting int the time to create this. I will have my son read it when he gets home from school.

The Thunderous Crapper 63's picture
k 500+ points

Wow great story with visuals there spiffy. AH just wonderin here has the occasional dead body ever come thru? It is because of people like you that as a society we can Keep On Flushin. I am taking my hat off to you now!
_______
The Thunderous Crapper 63 Enjoying home toilet advantage since 2004!

AHHHHHEMMMMMMMMMM JUST CLEARING MY THROAT!! ;)

The Poo Boy's picture

I don't understand two things:

First, the whole piece is on what happens to poop when it gets to a sewage plant, but what happens after? Some of the solids are shipped to farms for (?) natural fertilizer. Who knows. Maybe they feed it to the pigs. And does that include the plastics and latex? I can live with that, but what the hell happens to the "treated" water? It's sketchy. Sure, gravity or centrifugal motion extracts the solids, then it's what? -- chlorinated? Sent to a manufacturing plant to be used as coolant? How do you get all the chemicals out of the water, the hormones and pheromones and cheap thrown-up alcohol and bad thoughts and whatever else goes into a toilet bowl? I saw how 'clean" the "laundered" water looked. Go ahead, buddy, have a drink, right? No, we send it to be used in a factory, then dumped out into a bay or river or ocean. Then we drink it. . .

It's one thing to have a plant utilize bodily wastes to grow food, but eating animals that cycle those wastes? Like lobsters that live near sewage outputs? That chemical stuff's not getting broken down at all, even if the animal digests it and he, himself, poos.

Secondly: Just what, exactly, are you supposed to do with a used condom? Don't say throw it out, unless you enjoy the aroma of stale spunk permeating your trashcan, your bathroom, and eventually, your entire living space. Maybe rap it in Saran Wrap and then throw it out? I don't know. That doesn't seem very romantic, to me.

Double Flush's picture
k 500+ points

I have brought this up before, but why not use the solids to run a small power plant? When they are incinerated, they are releasing energy that can be used to generate electricity.

_______
[Insert witty banter here]

[Insert witty banter here]

healthy 1's picture
j 1000+ points

Very well written story.

This must be a fairly new plant. Our sewage treatment plant doesnot de-chlorinate the water, and incinerates the solids.

I think the method that your plant uses for waste water treatment is one of the best, if not, than the best method.
_______
A man who farts in church, sits in his own pew.

"Two percent of the population think; three percent of the population think they think, and 95 percent of the population would rather die than think."

Jim the Engineer (no shit!)'s picture

Thank you for a really entertaining and educational web site.

Our local sewage treatment plant (Blue Lake Interceptor Plant on the Minnesota River near Minneapolis) had an open house several years ago that featured a tour of the plant. It also included refreshments - lemonade and bratwursts. They were quite good, but I still wonder if they knew...

teddy j's picture

I never thought much about where my used rubbers go when I flush them, but now I know and I still intend flush them. Seems the best way to go.

Sherry's picture

I would like for my Webelos Scouts (4th graders) to take a tour. Is this something that can be arranged?

Anomalous Coward's picture
k 500+ points

Spiffy, I salute you. You REALLY know your shit. Its most enlightening to read a post like yours. And useful. Next time my asshole in-laws invite themselves to dinner, I have just the topic for indepth discussion. And I can speak authoritatively, thanks to your post. Poopreport - dispelling the ignorance!

Turd Wrangler's picture

haha,,I found this after googleing "tampon applicators in the lagoon", beach whistles, that cracks me up. The banks of my lagoons are covered with these damn things too, I'm constantly amazed by the things people will flush!

I work at a poop plant too.

Doo doo haid MJ's picture

I couldn't help but notice how this site's colors are....
Brown and Yellow.

turd banned it's picture
m 1+ points - Newb


_Beach whistles and fudge whistles, what will you corny critters think of next? A toilet paper roll kazoo?______
"show that turd who's boss"

"show that turd who's boss"

Crappen Geocacher's picture
m 1+ points - Newb

I have a friend I have known since 1999, and he works at the Detroit Water and sewerage plant, downriver from Detroit, but this article does explain this process much more than my friend has even talked about. He works in the drafting department, working on drawings in CAD on the computer for changes needed anywhere on the plant grounds.

KeepOnCrappin's picture
k 500+ points

In my area, storm drains let off into wet ponds and dry ponds, so they're easy to get into.

Storm drains in my county

Dry ponds and wet ponds


_______
"KOC -- the Cool Crapper" - Rat Droppings

"KOC -- the Cool Crapper" - Rat Droppings

Double Flush's picture
k 500+ points

I've tried to find where the storm drains around here go to (though they are makred for some lake or river), but have never made it to the outlets. It would be lots of fun to crawl inside a storm drain outlet, granted it isn't raining, and have a look. Just remember the one urbex rule--leave nothing but your footprints.

Also, I'm not mad or anything, but I'd like to note that I'm 19. Not young enough to be a kid, not experienced enough to have any sense in my head.

_______
"Double the flush, double the fun" --The Amazing Anus

[Insert witty banter here]

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