Shit Factory

I took my environmental politics class on a field trip to the wastewater treatment plant today in conjunction with learning about the Clean Water Act. When I was in college I spent one summer cutting weeds around the settling ponds of my hometown’s treatment plant, which the guys who worked there liked to call the shit factory.

That was circa 1984, just over a decade after the CWA. The basic processes today are the same, but there’s been substantial upgrading, and it’s really a pretty interesting process for anyone with a modicum of interest in science and technology.

One other interesting change came not from the CWA, but was driven largely (not solely) by 9/11, which is the on-going shift from using liquid chlorine as the final sanitizing stage to using UV lighting. Our town only has 20,000 people, and it previously had six 2-ton tanks of liquid chlorine. Holy WWI Battlefields, Batman! Imagine the number for a even a moderately sized city. An accident or incident waiting to happen. But UV lighting is not only much safer, it’s much cheaper. Our town installed UV about 4-5 years ago, and despite the upfront costs it has already paid for itself. You have to love a win-win like that.

About J@m3z Aitch

J@m3z Aitch is a two-bit college professor who'd rather be canoeing.
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14 Responses to Shit Factory

  1. Dr X says:

    And you can get a beautiful tan if you don’t mind getting a little dirty ;)

  2. lancifer666 says:

    Since my youth I have loved being around water; lakes, streams, creeks, oceans. My family moved from coast to coast (37 times) and upon being plopped down in a new local I would set about exploring the nearest body of water.

    Since we mostly inhabited suburban or urban areas I got an up close look at the condition of many of America’s lakes, coastal beachs and water ways. In the sixties and seventies this was sometimes a grim experience. I have noticed a marked improvement in the condition of the rivers and lakes I have visited since then.

    However there are many things still causing problems and I am deeply disappointed that water pollution is an almost unheard of issue while so much hyperbole and money is spent on demonizing and mitigating CO2.

    In fact the only water related issue that seems to pop up once in a while is the step child of climate change, ocean “acidification”. Which is really just the ocean becoming slightly less alkaline, but politically motivated alarmists can’t scare people if they say ocean “slight de-alkalinization”.

    Here in Indianapolis the water treatment facilities do a fine job of cleaning up the city’s waste water. That is until there is a heavy rain. Then the system is overwhelmed by the extra water and the plants are forced to dump everything into the White River.

    I once confronted a local “environmental activist” that was trying to get me to sign a petition to shut down Indiana’s coal fired power plants (pretty much the only source of electricity in most of this region) to stop “climate change”. I asked him if he cared about water pollution. He said “Of course.” Then I asked him if he knew about the problem of the Indianapolis sewage treatment system. He mumbled a few vague and general remarks and it was clear he didn’t know the nature of the problem.

    When I told him the problem he sounded concerned but said “Well climate change is threatening the entire planet so it should be the priority.”

    I just said “Good luck with that.” and closed the door.

    It isn’t a sexy problem so GreenPeace and the Sierra Club can’t scare people into contributing or attending rallies shouting angry slogans.

  3. Dr X says:

    My guess is the lakes across the street in Hoffman Estates were not among the most impressive in your experience.

  4. Dr X says:

    and 37 times! How man schools k-12?

  5. lancifer666 says:

    Dr X,

    Actually Moon Lake Village, an apartment complex along Higgins Road (as I remember), had a beautiful natural small lake, where I caught the biggest Large Mouth Bass of my life 6lbs 9 oz. I would ride my bike to the Fox River. It was a really nice river except during rainy times, when it would become choked with silt from farm run-off.

    I attended 22 K-12 schools in eleven different states. I was perpetually the “new kid”.

    Just in the Chicago area I attended three Junior Highs, and four high schools ( Maine West HS (in Des Plains), Hoffman Estates H. S. (twice), Arlington Heights H.S. and Barrington Consolidated H.S.).

    Then we moved to Indiana and I graduated from Carmel HS to make it five high schools in total, one of them attended two different times.

    Strangely, my folks stuck in central Indiana (of course my mom has directed four more moves in this area since then). So, ironically, my three siblings and I have all graduated from the same high school.

  6. lancifer666 says:

    Crap! I forgot Rolling Meadows HS! And I was enrolled in Evanston Township HS, but never attended, since we moved back to Hoffman Estates before classes began, because my mother came back to my dad, from Iceland (after leaving my dad for like the fifth time).

    So it’s actually six high schools, one of them attended two different times.

    No wonder I’m such a whack job.

  7. Dr X says:

    Lance, seems you did pretty well with school over the long haul, even though you were constantly changing schools. I’m reminded of a friend who attended something like 20 schools during k-12. He earned a Harvard degree and a clinical PhD. I guess the moving limits opportunities to fall in with the wrong crowd for too long, though I do recall you mentioning something about construction site vandalism in Hoffman Estates.

  8. Matty says:

    One of my early jobs was with a water company on a project to reduce sewage overflows into a river. It might reassure you to know that while water quality isn’t high profile the people actually running the systems and the regulators who set the standards they work to do take it very seriously and I’ll take actual progress over headlines about people being concerned any day.

    One interesting side effect was that because no one wanted their house or office near the smell the company ended up buying a buffer of land around the sewage works that turned into a nature reserve.

  9. lancifer666 says:

    Dr X,

    Yeah, I mostly avoided the “bad crowd”. One advantage of continuously moving was that I got to see the little cliques in each school for what they were, little groups of self-important brats. There would be a local chapter of these groups were ever I moved. A wider perspective allowed me to mostly ignore these tiny tyrannies. I think it also shaped my outspoken and aggressive personality. I didn’t seek out confrontation but neither did I back down from bullies.

    New kids either have to kowtow and hope to enter the bottom of the pecking order or accept being an outsider. I tried desperately to fit in during first and second grade. But by third grade I had already bounced through five or six schools and was fine with sitting at the “nerds” table in the cafeteria. These associations also probably helped form my love of math and science.

  10. lancifer666 says:


    That’s comforting to know. As I said, it does seem that water quality has improved since I was a kid, perhaps due to these water professionals and regulators.

    The city of Indianapolis has plans for a 3.1 billion dollar update to its sewage system that will largely solve the dumping of raw sewage after large rainfalls. The problem is that the completion date is 2025!

  11. J@m3z Aitch says:


    Sanitary overflows are still a problem, because they require building to a capacity that is only rarely experienced. But on a day to day basis the return from the treatment plant to the White River is cleaner than the water it’s going into. The biggest contributors currently to rivers like the White are going to be ag runoff (both chemical and sedimentation) and road/bridge runoff (fluids from cars, tire rubber, etc.), and if you’re unlucky–as we are downstream from me–uncleaned industrial waste sites that continue to leach heavy metals and such into the water. Even with sanitary overflows–which are becoming less common–municipal waste treatment is one of our least problematic aspects of water quality today. And thank god for that. Although it hasn’t come cheap, it’s been well worth the price.

  12. lancifer666 says:


    Yeah, ag run off is a big problem for rivers. Just the silt alone turns the White River muddy brown in the spring.

  13. J@m3z Aitch says:

    It’s amazingly easy to control. Just leave swaths of unplowed filter strips along the edges of ditches, creeks and rivers. We can also easily create sumps where ditches run into natural waterways, to slow down the water and allow the sediment to drop out. Technologically, there’s few things easier. But the issue is cost, and who pays? There are federal and state programs that will pay farmers to leave filter strips (e.g., the FDA’s CREP program), but that only works so long as there’s funding at a level that’s attractive to farmers. Just mandating them imposes the cost on the farmers (although much of it might get passed onto the consumer). I think there’s justification for condemning a 30 foot swath of land along all waterways, natural or manmade, but when you start adding up the acreage you’re talking a big pile of public money.

  14. Matty says:

    I wonder how much needs to be public money? Is there scope for say water companies or angling clubs to effectively rent the buffer strips from farmers?

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