By YES! Central Coordinator Erin Nordquist
On February 15th, 2017, seven students from the ROCORI High School Youth Energy Summit (YES!) team, along with their coach, attended a Winter Workshop on water quality at City of St. Cloud public utilities facilities. This workshop allowed the students to see the in-depth processes that happen behind the scenes to maintain water quality in an urban setting, and learn about the time, staff, and energy it takes to keep those systems running.
The group got a tour of the City of St. Cloud Water Treatment Facility from Adam Bourassa, Water Services Manager. Adam walked the students through the process of treating Mississippi River water to create the clean, safe drinking water that is distributed to the residents of St. Cloud and St. Augusta. The students were amazed to learn that water towers are not for water storage, which is a common misconception. The true purpose of a water tower is to maintain positive pressure within the water distribution system. Adam explained that this is a delicate balance and a loss of pressure has the potential to allow contaminants into the distribution systems. If an area issues a boil advisory, this is likely the cause.
Following the tour at the Water Treatment Facility, the group heard a presentation from Sauk River Watershed District staff, Sarah Jo Schmitz and Erin Nordquist, about the role the District plays in keeping surface waters clean. The group got to try their hand at measuring water clarity with a Secchi tube after hearing about all the equipment used to monitor water quality and quantity within the District. It was important for the group to learn about the contaminant issues that surface waters face due to human interaction so that they know how to help avoid them. Aside from the multitude of other reasons to protect our waters, the cleaner that we can keep surface and groundwater, the less work and energy it takes to make it drinkable.
The students then heard from Emma Larson, Water Quality Coordinator for the City of St. Cloud, about the efforts that the City is making to increase sustainability in their Public Utilities operations. The operation of a municipality uses a significant amount of energy, likely more than any other industry on average, the highest percentage of which is used in the treatment of water and wastewater. The City of St. Cloud has taken steps to move toward energy neutrality such as installing solar panels on City buildings, updating more than 2,000 street lights from High Pressure Sodium to LED, and the recovery and reuse of biogas energy generated during wastewater treatment processes.
Finally, the group got a tour of the City of St. Cloud’s Wastewater Treatment Facility from Chris Plautz, Wastewater Services Supervisor. Chris showed the group the path that wastewater from the homes and businesses of St. Cloud and 5 surrounding communities takes after entering the facility. They saw the processes and equipment involved in separating the water from the solids, treating and releasing the water back into the Mississippi River, and making the solids into usable fertilizer. Even though some (okay, most!) of the areas in the Wastewater Treatment Facility were very smelly, it was good for the students to see that the water comes full circle. Water that enters the Mississippi gets treated for drinking water, distributed to homes, used, collected, treated again, and released back into the Mississippi. Each step in that process has a level of care that needs to be met in order to ensure human health and minimal environmental impact.