Skip to main content

Swapping backpacks for hardhats, a summer job like no other

By September 15, 2023No Comments
A group of the interns observe and take notes at one of the South Treatment Plants clarifiers. They stand along the rails of the clarifier, which is full of water and reflects the overcast sky that makes up the background. The students are wearing safety vests and hardhats.

Under a cloudy Renton sky, Daisy Crabtree observes water flowing through one of South Treatment Plant’s clarifiers. The giant tank plays a critical role in the treatment of wastewater where solids and particles settle before being removed. 

“I was entranced by the process of the water filtration, and staring into the it made me realize how connected I am to the water,” said Daisy. “It made me feel grateful that we have such clean and healthy water in King County.”  

Although Daisy looks the part in hardhat, safety vest, and goggles, he is no wastewater professional. He doesn’t even work at the plant, in fact, Daisy is a high schooler. What was Daisy doing at South Plant?! 

He’s one of 12 King County students who took part in this summer’s Clean Water Ambassador internship and was touring the plant to learn about how we collect and clean wastewater before safely returning it to the environment in Puget Sound. 

King County has been partnering with the Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust since 2016, as part the Wastewater Treatment Division’s efforts to cultivate the next generation of clean water professionals and to build more ties to communities in our service area.  

Twelve student interns posing with their two teachers, all wearing hardhats and orange safety vests. The background is a part of the Georgetown Wet Weather Treatment Plant and shows large water disinfection tanks and a background of a city skyline in the distance.

It takes a village 

Susan Tallarico, WTD’s Director of Education, knows just how important programs like this are. “There are a lot of teens who are passionate about the environment and doing what they can to protect it, but they don’t always connect that with government work. This internship helps show the students the diversity of jobs that King County offers, and how much local government does to protect our waterways and the environment.” 

The Clean Water Ambassador program has had over 71 interns participate since it began eight years ago. Over the course of 5-weeks, the paid internship provides teens with firsthand experience in learning about local environmental issues and careers focused on clean water.  

Over 50 people were involved in guiding the interns through the summer program. From the educators to the tour guides, and even the treatment plant managers, an army of wastewater professionals were there every step of the way. 

The program is led by three passionate educators: Siena Ezekiel and Kristin Covey, of WTD, and Becca Kedenburg, of the Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust. 

Straight from the source 

One of the highlights of the summer was the visit to the Cedar River Watershed, where over 1.5 million people in the Puget Sound region get their potable water. Most of that water ends up in the wastewater system after it goes through homes and businesses.  

The students toured the Cedar River Watershed Education Center, where they learned the about history of the watershed and why protecting it from pollution is vital to public health. 

Entering the trenches 

No internship at WTD is complete without some time at the treatment plants.  

Tuan Hoang, a graduate of Evergreen High School, found a sense of relief during his visit. “Going to the treatment plants eased me as it let me know that large initiatives are being carried out to help resolve the pollution that plagues our water.” 

During the internship the students took part in other educational events; many were hands-on experiences out in the community. They taught grade school students about stormwater pollution, dissected salmon, visited a tree farm where we apply King County biosolids to improve soil health, and removed non-native plants at Confluence Park.  

With the summer ending, the students are returning to school.  

Know someone who’d like to participate? Applications will be open in spring 2024, learn more here