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My journey in sewers

Separately, three different friends sent me links to a New York Times article on March 13, 2015 regarding “flushable wet wipes,” which describes how the increasingly popular consumer products bollox up the sewer systems in Manhattan and the other boroughs.

My friends know me well. The reason they associate me with the evil, non-biodegradable wipes largely comes from some experiences I’ve had as a landlord over the last decade. I discovered the hard way over several incidences (costly me a cumulative $2400 in rotor-rooter charges) that those flushable items might make it through the toilet, but not the 100-year-old line from my building in Chicago that leads to the sewer main. The wholly intact wet wipes collect like cholesterol in an artery, blocking the outflow and leading to a backup in the basement. Not pretty, not fun – and cause for some indelicate conversations with tenants.

But my experience with sewers began decades ago. During my childhood my growing hometown graduated from septic systems to a municipal sewer district. The retirement and excavation of our septic tank and the street-by-street construction of the town sewer system provided me tangible awareness of where things go after the flush.

Flash forward to 2014, when I was assigned an article for Green Building & Design magazine on Seattle’s Brightwater Treatment Plant, “the most beautiful sewage treatment plant in the world.” You can read my story about the $1.8 billion facility here, but be forewarned it gets down to the nitty gritty of how this LEED Platinum facility handles all that comes its way – including those detestable flushable wipes. What’s remarkable is how this plant respects the spectacular Pacific Northwest environment and endeavors to restore water to nature's cycles. The plant administrators also achieve some cost recovery by selling non-potable water to golf courses and industry, as well as a fertilizer product that is sold commercially.

Russ Klettke likes to write about the technical details that can transform our lives and the world we live in. Learn more about how he helps companies to share ideas and information, and contact him to discuss your communications needs.

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Russ Klettke

Business Writer

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