“Would you jump in this tank to save your friend if she fell in?”
This was one of the questions my tour guide asked me during my visit to the Little Patuxent Water Reclamation Plant. As I stared at the bubbling, brown, mucky water, my first instinct told me to say “No, probably not.”
Prior to this experience, I had never been to a wastewater treatment plant or even thought about the process of water reclamation. So when I found out that there would be an Executive Intern trip to the Little Patuxent Water Reclamation Plant, I was excited to learn more about the process and witness it firsthand. As an Environmental Science and Policy major at the University of Maryland, my introductory environmental science class mentioned the process briefly with a few diagrams, but it was not a very memorable lecture. However, after visiting Little Patuxent, my tour of the wastewater treatment plant is one I will never forget.
Most people do not know what happens when we flush the toilet or pour something down the drain. Now, I am one of the lucky few who do. To summarize briefly, the process starts with the raking out of major solids, such as toilet paper, money, and even McDonald’s toys. Anything you can fit down the drain flows right into the plant. After that, what’s left is given time to settle and the sludge is scraped out. Eventually, the water flows into a tank that is monitored to provide ideal conditions for natural bacteria that start to break down major pollutants. Then, the bacteria are killed using UV rays, and the water, now 99% clean, is released into the Little Patuxent River.
Even though there were some overwhelming smells and stomach-churning sights, overall I was amazed by the technological and biological processes of the plant. Treating wastewater is a dirty job that we tend to overlook, but it is vital to public health, pollution reduction, and water quality of the Chesapeake Bay. As a community, we would not be able to function without the Little Patuxent plant or the dedicated people that work to keep it running. I highly recommend that everyone tour the plant at least once in their life, so that you will never “flush and forget” again.Arlynnell Dickson Howard County Executive Intern July 2014