Waterworld

As a small introduction, I am interning with the City of Salisbury this summer, and have the exciting opportunity to jump from department to department every week. So, if you are looking to learn a little more about a bunch of different sides to local government, then you have come to the right place!

My first week with Salisbury was spent with Salisbury-Rowan Utilities (SRU) under Utilities Director Jim Behmer, who is currently earning his MPA at Appalachian State (I don’t hold it against him). One thing I learned from Jim was that employees usually have a preference for either water or wastewater (sewer).

Despite the ripe smell, I found myself fascinated by the wastewater side of things. Without getting too deep into details, the wastewater plant process involves removing things that shouldn’t go down a sink or toilet in the first place (including grease and the so called “flushable” wipes), using microscopic organisms to break down organic matter in the wastewater, and using chemicals like bleach to disinfect the water before it is released back into the Yadkin River. Plus, a bio-solid bi-product can be given out to farmers to use as fertilizer for crops consumed by livestock. It may not be a pretty process, but it involves some fascinating solutions and highlighted for me the importance of educating the public on some proper procedures – don’t poor the grease down the sink, and don’t flush the wet wipe.

While it may seem like common sense to some, I also learned the importance of gravity in the wastewater process. Pumping wastewater is expensive, so SRU utilizes gravity lines wherever possible. This requires a lot of planning and is somewhat like putting a puzzle together, as lines need to go toward the wastewater stations, but always downhill. In fact, both stations are located beside creeks as they are natural low points in the topography. Planning here can mean the difference between spending thousands of dollars to operate a pump station, or letting gravity transport the wastewater for the cost of the pipe alone.

Going back to the water side, I have to bring up what I thought was an example of brilliant problem solving at the water reservoir. As water sits in the large open pits, sunlight reacts with organisms and algae forms on the water. Among the other chemicals added to clean the water is a very expensive chemical that has the sole purpose of killing the algae. In order to cut down on costs with this chemical, SRU put thousands of plastic balls on top of the water to take away the sunlight and, by extension, eliminate algae growth. While the balls were a significant initial cost, SRU was able to eliminate the need for most (if not all) of that particular chemical, which will save the utility a fair amount of money in the long run.

Shade balls on an SRU reservoir

Well (pun definitely intended), that does it for this post. Feel free to comment for more details on anything I did with SRU this week or check out their website here. Come back next week for Finance!

One Reply to “Waterworld”

  1. Brian, this is amazing! I can’t wait to hear more about your experiences with each department.

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