It’s certainly not news that Western Washington is a wet place. That means a lot of water can flow into King County’s treatment plants on a daily, or even hourly basis.
Rain doesn’t belong in the sewer, but it gets in there through cracks in sewer pipes or from drains on building roofs and foundations that are connected to the sewer system. In some parts of Seattle, sewer and stormwater systems are combined.
“The weather forecast is always on our minds,” said Dustin Harris, East Offsite Supervisor who oversees 29 facilities in King County’s Wastewater Treatment Division. “When I wake up I think, ‘What is today going to bring?’ Especially during the wet season. It is never ending, the pressure is always there and remains with you all the time in the winter season.”
Spring is a busy time too. In March, the facility team has drawn up a work plan for weather maintenance for the next winter season. By April, they’re off to the races, working swiftly and safely to upgrade equipment by mid-October, in time for the first raindrops of the wet season.
“Regular inspections and planned maintenance are performed to prevent failures. We do not have the luxury of shutting down the plant,” said Curtis Steinke, a process engineer and 26-year veteran of WTD. Completing the bulk of the work in the summer is important because lower flows allow access to systems that might otherwise be under (waste) water. During this time, new staff are trained on inspecting and maintaining these systems. The work includes:
- Insulating pipes to prevent freezing
- Increasing the capacity of generators
- Inspecting and repairing channels between different treatment stages
- Testing and cleaning the green-water discharge system to prevent pollutants from getting into our waterways
By the time winter rolls around again, all this prep work will pay off as staff can focus on keeping hundreds of millions of gallons of wastewater and stormwater flowing efficiently through the treatment system. It’s not glamorous work, but the staff have strong sense of purpose.
“Our work is best when it is unnoticed by the public,” said Scott Drennen, the Day Operations and Dewatering Supervisor at South Plant explained. “We are not like a firefighter responding to an active emergency, which is visible. Our work is preventing a public health or environmental emergency from happening in the first place by maintaining consistent operations of the plant.”
And by the way, the operators will tell you that it’s not just big pipes that need attention. All of us have a role to play in making sure small problems don’t become big problems at the end of a sewer pipe.
How can our communities support the important work happening at the treatment plant? Don’t flush wipes, medication, or anything else that’s not the 4 P’s (pee, poo, toilet paper, and puke).
Our goal is to protect public health and the environment while being a good neighbor. If you live near South Plant, https://publicinput.com/sp-survey-english take the South Plant Near Neighbor Survey and tell us about what matters to you. The survey will be open until April 30, 2023.
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