Far too few people have any idea of what happens to water after we use it. Before you read this blog, ask yourself the question: what happens to the waste we flush down the toilet, from your shower or sink, or that gets washed into storm drains?
My answers to these questions recently became a lot more detailed and accurate. On November 19th, I organized a tour of the Blue Plains Advanced Wastewater Treatment Facility. If you live in Washington DC or in several neighboring counties, your water ends up at Blue Plains. This massive and impressive facility has the important job of processing 370 million gallons of water per day before releasing it back into the Potomac River. The facility uses a complex, multi-step process to remove or reclaim everything other than water from our sewage.
I was joined by Gail, a few old friends, and eight members of the DC Park and Recreation’s Urban Master Compost Course I am currently enrolled in.
Heide: “Here is the principal concern I took away from this visit: how to educate the public, AND change the labeling on such things a ‘wipes,’ so that people become more responsible in disposing of them, or even better, how to convince manufacturers to move toward biodegradable products that can then be truly flushed.”
Maria: “In DC the issue of littering is also huge. I already hate it aesthetically but now I realize how much more important it is [because litter is washed into the wastewater system and causes problems]. I found myself looking around for street littering this morning! It was a fantastic tour and I hope more people take it. I will try to spread the word”
Maya: “I was so impressed with the whole process. My thoughts are that we need to recruit more people for our awesome classes with Josh. If each one of us bring one person to the next program in the summer and in the next composting class, we will have almost 10 people. We can also provide a sort of mentorship. We need to educate more people and organize a cadre of community leaders on environmental issues (gardening, composting and others).”
Gail talked to me about how she sees the change in these areas as requiring policy and economic solutions, citing the plastic bag tax that we learned on the tour made such a huge difference reducing the massive quantity of bags that inundate the system at Blue Plains.
I reflected after the tour about how no matter who you are or what you do, if you are one of the millions of people in our area, your water and waste goes to Blue Plains. There is something deeply connective about experiencing Blue Plains when I take that perspective. I find the idea that as a regional community we compose this giant organism that creates coordinated stream of water into the Potomac River to be awe-inspiring. As are the incredible engineering and scientific solutions people have come up with to process that massive continual flow.