Sewage plant tour gives EPO students the straight poop

On Tuesday, a group of East Port Orchard Elementary School students got to see what happens to all that stuff they flush down the toilet.

With their noses plugged, many of the fifth-graders did not seem all that enthralled with the tanks of bubbling brown water and vats of sludge as they toured the Joint Wastewater Treatment Facility on Beach Drive, which is operated by West Sound Utility District.

“The gross factor works in our favor — it catches their attention and we can say, ‘if you don’t treat your water, this is what your neighborhoods would smell like,’” said Lab technician Lorisa Watkins, explaining that taking the kids downstairs to see and smell what the waste is like before it is treated is a good way to reach them.

Watkins said the tour was part of an educational outreach program the utility district is piloting, and EPO was chosen because of its proximity.

“We thought fifth-graders would be a good starting point, and (EPO teacher Jane Douglas) was open to having her class visit,” Watkins said, adding that it was Douglas’ class of fifth-graders who visited first. “We have tours for different people all the time, but this was the first time we had a class come as an educational experience.”

And the experience the students were decidedly enthralled with was being allowed to dump “sludge, animal droppings” and other pollutants onto a peaceful town scene with rolling green hills and roads that were populated with animals and people.

Watkins said the plant borrowed the model, called an EnviroScape, from the Washington Conservation Corps to help illustrate the importance of clean water.

To show how water is supposed to look, Watkins first had the children add “rain” — water in squirt bottles — to the mix. Once the water flowed down the model’s hills to the river bed, Watkins had the students test the water’s pH level, which was good.

“With the treatment plant operating, everything is fine,” Watkins said. “But let’s take it away, and add some pollutants.”

The kids then went to work with shakers of animal droppings and bottles of sludge and other ominous muck which quickly coated the grass, buildings and animals with multi-colored slime.

“You guys are killing everything,” one student cried, and Watkins explained: “This is what your environment would look like without a treatment plant.

“Now, test the water,” she said, and sure enough, the test strip showed the water was too dirty.

But just by looking at it, the students could tell the water would not be good for anything, as it was full of brown and red slime and had debris floating in it.

“Some places in the world, people use water like that to bathe in and to drink, because they have no way to treat it,” she said. “So the fact that you guys have a wastewater treatment plant to treat your water is a huge deal, because it keeps you healthy and keeps your environment safe.”

Watkins said the model was a “huge hit” with the students and really helped “get the message across” about why you need treatment facilities around to keep your water clean.

“If you don’t treat your waste, you can hurt the environment and make people sick,” she said. “The more we can get that message across, the better.”

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