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Warning! This is a crappy column

By Staff | Jun 12, 2011

It’s not the most pleasant of topics for genteel conversation.

But, it is something we all do everyday.

Politely stated, it is using the toilet and then flushing it.

As the front page story asks, do you ever think about what happens next?

Maybe not.

I’m reminded of the 3-year-old being potty trained. He always waved and said goodbye to his, um, ‘deposit,’ as he flushed the handle.

When asked why, he said because it was going on a trip.

Out of the mouths of babes. The little guy was absolutely correct.

The flushed material leaves the building via a sewer pipe. If you live in the country, it goes into your own septic tank system for processing. If you live in a city, it goes to a sewage treatment plant.

(I’m sorry, the correct term is wastewater treatment plant, not sewage. But like a rose by any other name would still smell as sweet, sewage by any other name would still not smell like a rose.)

In Blue Earth, a tour of the wastewater treatment plant shows what a large and complicated operation this is. There are several buildings both above and below ground, massive holding tanks and things like clarifiers, digesters and aeration ponds.

Trust me when I say that it is a complicated procedure to take the half million gallons per day of sewage, um, I mean wastewater, treat it in many ways and turn it into something that can be dumped into the Blue Earth River.

That is correct – the river is the ultimate destination.

Every once in a while, especially during floods or after heavy rains, the sewage has to bypass the plant and go directly into the river. It is either that, or most of the homes in the city would have sewage coming back into their homes instead of the other way around. When this happens, the city has to notify the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency within one hour of the event. It is the MPCA that issues the permits to operate a treatment facility.

The man in charge of the Blue Earth wastewater treatment plant is Jamison Holland who has been running it for many years. Recently he also took on the position of overall public works supervisor for the city.

Sometimes people without much knowledge on a subject are told they don’t know _ (euphemistic word for excrement). Believe me when I say that Holland does know _ (euphemistic word for excrement). In fact, he is an expert on the subject.

Running the treatment plant is complicated, with mechanical items such as pipes, pumps, valves, gates, scrubbers and clarifiers – as well as chemicals and biological agents. There is a lab on site, many tests to take and records to keep.

Holland refers to some of these biological agents as “bugs.” They help digest and convert the solids in the waste steam. I found it interesting that one of the last steps in this very complicated treatment procedure is to reclaim the bugs so that they can be reused again.

However, sometimes the bugs get old and die and have to be replaced with new young ones, Holland says.

Just like all of us, I guess.

But, again, I digress.

We have a man named Thomas Crapper to thank (or blame) for all of this discussion.

While it is widely thought that Crapper ­- who was born in 1836 and died in 1910 – invented the modern flushing toilet, he did not. But, he did modernize it and popularize it in England. And his name has become its nickname.

The actual first flushing toilet was invented in 1596. However, I hesitate to tell you where those first toilets flushed to, because there wasn’t any sewage (sorry, wastewater) treatment plants at the time.

OK, enough of this rambling.

The gist of this admittedly crappy column is that while we may not think about what happens every time we flush, it is something we need to think about once in a while.

Because if you own your own system, you paid thousands of dollars to have it installed, and more to have it pumped. If you live in town, you have a monthly fee on your city utility bill to help pay for what happens after you flush.

After hearing what all needs to be done to the sewer system and wastewater plant in Blue Earth, I can about guarantee that the monthly fee is going to rise.

I guess we all have to pay as we go…