The photos are mine, but the text that follows was written by Pete Overholt, who organized the tour we took on behalf of Common Ground.
“Did you know the deep tunnel has close to 30 miles of water storage capacity? Did you know leaky laterals – the pipes that connect our homes to the sewage treatment system - are a significant problem during large rain events? Did you know you may be eligible for a mini-grant to help pay for installation of a rain garden on your property? Did you know one of the major tools for water treatment is microbes … that “gobble up” contaminants? Did you know that Milorganite is short for “Milwaukee Organic Nitrogen”?
A bus-load of Unitarian Universalists learned all this and a lot more during a tour of the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District (MMSD) Jones Island wastewater treatment plant on Saturday, 12/7. Clouds of vapor rising from settling ponds set against crisp blue sky provided a dramatic backdrop for the event, and our guides did a great job of fielding a steady stream of questions. Our group followed the process from trash filtering to settling, through the microbial buffet and chemical cleansing, to final discharge of clean water to Lake Michigan.
The operation was impressive, but there is always room for improvement. While sewer overflows are a much smaller problem than they were in the past (thanks to deep tunnel storage capacity), they still occur, and urbanization continues to add impervious surface, increasing the volume of water that must be handled. Individually, we can all have an impact; if it’s raining hard, shorten your shower, and save laundry for another day! Collectively, MMSD gave us a picture of sanitation and storm water handling in our community.”
Common Ground is a nonpartisan organization in Southeastern Wisconsin dedicated to identifying pressing social problems facing our community and bringing about creative solutions. To learn more about Common Ground, go to their website.
The interior shots are all of the drying facility that makes Milorganite, which is used as fertilizer.
The Jones Island stack is 300 feet tall, which is also how deep the deep tunnels are.
Full disclosure: I attended the tour as a member of Unitarian Universalist Church West.