Jeff Humphrey

No Timeouts for Those Treating Wastewater

Jeff Humphrey, Media Manager, 509.625.6308

Thursday, April 16, 2020 at 1:17 p.m.

If there’s a task that doesn’t lend itself to COVID-19 telecommuting, it’s treating wastewater.

Keeping tabs on the average 35 million gallons of sewage, which pour through Spokane’s Wastewater Treatment Plant every day, is a job best done in person.

“We need people here, hands on. Keeping equipment running. Conducting tests,” explained Mike Coster, wastewater treatment manager.

For example, lab tech Stephanie Graham checks on the health and numbers of microorganisms which help digest suspended solids in the wastewater.

After rotating screens remove larger debris, our sewage settles into a series of tanks where oils float to the surface and solids settle to the bottom.

“The bugs break down the solids, they break down ammonia. They get concentrated as they make their way into what I have to my right, the secondary clarifiers,” lab supervisor Jon Eckhart said during a recent tour of the facility.

Wastewater employees are practicing social distancing and so far, the biggest concern COVID at the plant is a flood of cloth sanitary wipes that should never be flushed.

“It can cause problems at the plant with clogging pumps, and it can cause even more serious problems at pump stations or lift stations throughout the collection system,” warned Coster.

Remarkably, it takes just 17 hours for raw sewage to wind its way through the plant, just upstream of Riverside State Park.

At the end of the process, the water is disinfected to kill bacteria and then, de-chlorinated before the effluent flows into the Spokane River.

“It’s an essential community service,” Coster said of wastewater treatment.

“Yes, it’s the right thing to do, and we take great pride in making sure we provide the cleanest product that’s going into the river for other users to use,” pledged Eckhart.

Since the river will be one of our favorite places to play and cool off later this summer, it’s nice to know wastewater employees didn’t let their guard down during the COVID crisis.

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