Friday, May 21, 2010

The "Sewer Tewer"

What do people do for fun when they retire? Here is a good example. Last Saturday we (Julie and me and Ray A and Karen W) went to a free SEWER TEWER (my name for it) at the 175 acre water quality plant. The official name is the "San Jose/Santa Clara Water Pollution Control Plant." It claims to be one of the largest advanced wastewater treatment facilities in California. It treats and cleans the wastewater of over 1,500,000 people that live and work in the 300-square mile area encompassing San Jose, Santa Clara, Milpitas, Campbell, Cupertino, Los Gatos, Saratoga, and Monte Sereno.

Wastewater from sinks, toilets, and drains inside homes, businesses and schools in most of Santa Clara Valley travels through an underground pipe system, known as the sanitary sewer system, before it arrives for treatment at the plant. That journey from house-to-plant can take up to 10 hours. About 18 hours later, 99% of the impurities have been removed through a highly sophisticated treatment process that simulates the way nature purifies water, but at a greatly accelerated rate. This is a separate system from the storm sewers that flow directly to the bay.

To me, the plant appears to operate just the way any otdinary septic tank operates but on a much larger (industrial strength) scale. After the FOG (fats, oils and greases) is skimmed off for recycling, yeast and bacteria are introduced into the process by using highly concentrated WAS (waste activated sludge). From there the anaerobic bacteria (which don't need any oxygen) take over and process the waste water. After extensive pumping, settling, and filtering, the recycled water is pumped into an extensive non-potable water pipe network for irrigation use. All excess effluent is pumped into the south end of San Francisco Bay through Coyote Creek. It's cleaner that the water already in the bay so there is no danger of degrading that resource.

I was amazed a the number of people on the tour; maybe 60 people on this one. There was an earlier tour that morning. Attendees ranged from young high school and college students to interested ordinary citizens to retired people.

We met in a conference room for the first 20 minutes or so to get an overview of what this facility does. We walked by the computer room (lots of monitors) which shows the status of various pumps and valves in numerous tanks, basins and ponds. From there we boarded buses (there were two), nicely air conditioned for our comfort and with minimum odor intrusion.

OK... enough of this talk. Here is a video compilation of some pictures I took. I was more taken by shapes and colors rather than documenting the process. So, for the next two minutes, turn up the volume and watch this intriguing display while listening to the strains of "Piggie Woogie" performed by the Zeet Band. (Pigs gotta boogie, too, ya' know!)


karensumpter said...

Wow, who knew? Dad you crack me up...I loved your pics and listening to the Piggie Woogie...its been a long time! How does one find out about the sewer tewer? Does it stink in there? I'm glad its at least free!

Janet said...

hahaha... very entertaining dad! i loved it... reminded me of my childhood with the piggy song! i had no idea there was such a process to purifying waste! :)

Joe and Julie said...

Karen, we actually heard about the "tewer" from some friends who went. And, yes, it does stink. But the buses saved the day. Do you remember driving up Hiway 17 (now 880) through Milpitas and smelling the aroma carried in by the westerly wind from Alviso?

Lindseys said...

Interesting post. Not something I would have expected on your blog. That was funny that you set the slide show to that music. I wanna push the piggie.

Stefani said...

Aww, man, derek stole my line about wanting to push the piggie. But may I just say that the blue color of some of those pipes is very awesome and I think you did a great job of documenting the shapes and colors - I'm just glad this isn't smell-a-vision.