Clueless Story Final Draft: Wastewater Treatment in Eugene
Where does waste go when you flush your toilet?
According to The Alliance for Water Efficiency, a non-profit organization dedicated to the efficient and sustainable use of water, people flush their toilets an average of five times throughout the day. That means that in Eugene alone, waste is flushed down the toilet millions of times a week.
But the water and waste from the Eugene-Springfield area doesn’t just magically disappear once you flush.
All wastewater in the Eugene-Springfield area is sent to the Wastewater Treatment Plant located in the River Road neighborhood where the operators work to clean 30,000,000 gallons of wastewater every day.
After the wastewater is cleared of larger items such as branches, bathroom items that can’t be broken down by water, and the occasional cellphone, the water is mechanically lifted into large tanks to separate out the solids from the wastewater.
Treatment plant administrator Rachael Chilton describes the initial process: “Whenever the solids come out of the water they get sent to the digesters. It stays in there for about 30 days. It’s about human body temperature. Anaerobic organisms [organisms that don’t need oxygen to grow] process that material, and then it gets piped five and a half miles away to our Biosolids Management Facility. It goes through some more treatment and ends up as biosolids.”
Biosolids are organic materials resulting from the treatment of sewage. These materials meet Federal and state mandated criteria and are suitable for land use as fertilizer, or can be safely recycled.
The process of making biosolids with anaerobic organisms gives off byproducts such as methane gas. The Eugene-Springfield Wastewater Treatment Plant utilizes these processes in environmentally friendly ways.
“We use that methane gas to run a big generator that powers much of the plant’s electricity needs,” Chilton said.
According to their website, the Eugene-Springfield Wastewater Treatment Plant annually processes 6,000 tons of dry biosolids. The facility is using these biosolids for the environmental benefit of the Eugene-Springfield community.
Many grass farmers in the Eugene area use the biosolids as fertilizer, while most of the biosolids and recycled water not sent to the Willamette River are used to fertilize poplar trees at the Biocycle Farm, which is owned by the Metropolitan Wastewater Management Commission.
The Biocycle Farm, off of Awbrey Lane in north Eugene, is about 400 acres of poplar trees being farmed and harvested. The trees are then sold on the market and the revenue is used to fund the biosolids recycling process.
According to the Biocycle Farm’s brochure, after the solid waste is sent from the Wastewater Treatment Plant, “natural decomposition and other processes further stabilize the materials and produce pathogens [microorganisms such as bacteria]. The resulting organic materials are nutrient rich organic biosolids that have beneficial soil enhancement properties.”
In other words it’s good for growing things.
Chilton says it’s a common misconception that they are polluters. In reality, the water that exits the plant after the treatment process is cleaner than any wastewater that enters the plant.
Chilton says, “[The Wastewater Treatment Plant] is taking the community’s pollution and cleaning it.”