Safe Drinking Water In Lethbridge - And Downstream!

(Editor's Note: The Oldman recently toured the wastewater and water treatment plants for the City of Lethbridge as part of our Film Project. Here's a little update. Do check out #oldmangoestohollywood if you are a Twitter user.)

The other day, we met with OWC's Chairman, Doug Kaupp, who is also the General Manager of Water and Wastewater for the City of Lethbridge. The City has generously sponsored the OWC Film Project as a Collaborative Partner. The OWC gets $5,000 to put toward the film-making, and the City gets three videos: one for kids, one for the public at large, and one for scientists. The Collaborative Partner gets the videos at a fraction of the commercial cost, and the Oldman gets to create invaluable educational material.

For the City's videos, we toured three main sites: the waste water treatment plant, the water treatment plant and some river locations for storm outfalls and other technology.

It's a good thing this is a story told in pictures and not in smells! ...but, here we go:
So this first picture ^^ is where all the toilet flushings and drainage from the city of Lethbridge is collected to ONE POINT. I know, it's not fluffy birdies and flowers, but it's high time you knew. Yes, it stinks to high heaven.

That's why I was praying that the guys didn't drop or knock their fancy-dancy camera equipment into the sludge: clearly, nobody would jump in after it to save it!

There are several stages to the process, and I'm not going to walk you through them all, but it was really interesting to find out just how much effort, science (and yes, money) goes into treating wastewaster to a condition where it can be released back into the river. It is the same stuff that fish will swim in, kids will play in ... and everybody downstream will drink (after they treat it further). (Obviously this picture shows one of the initial stages, and not the end result far down the line in wastewater treatment!)
First of all, anything that will harm the other machines is caught and removed (rocks, what have you). Then, 'tons and tons' of sand is taken out. I couldn't believe it. A lot of the sand is simply from cleaning - washing your floors, etc. Apparently, a lot of people are also forgetting their rags when they flush their dirty floor water down the drain! 

A much better idea is to use biodegradable soap and dump the sand and dirty water onto your lawn - and pick out your rag.

The picture above ^^ shows part of the process where, now that the sand has been removed, the culprits grease and hair get worked over.

Are you one of the people flushing the hair from your brush down the toilet? 
It is far better to put it in the garbage. 

The same goes for your bacon fat, cooking fat, any type of grease is a real effort to remove. 

There's a little trick, actually: use an old milk carton and pour the grease into it. Close the spout so it doesn't smell and put it in the fridge and it is easily disposable in the garbage after it has set.

This is a very complicated process. 

There are ten of these"sludge pools", bubbling and working away.

In fact, this process is was pioneered in Lethbridge. The gas created in this sludging process is actually captured and used for electricity to run the plant! How tidy!

And here's a photo of "Mr. Water", Doug Kaupp, who is taking the Oldman Film Crew on a tour of the facilities and explaining the wastewater treatment process to us. Doug has a lot of responsibility for taking care of us all!

There is not an alien living in this tank. It is actually ultraviolet light, used to treat the water once it's past the sludge stage. It has a green tinge due to the algae.

On to the next stage! There are several buildings, each with it's own function, and all connected with massive pipes.

Jim MacDonald, left, is the Wastewater Plant Manager in Lethbridge. A lot of people are involved in making sure our water is clean and healthy for everyone downstream.

Great chemistry brains aren't just found on TV! Brian Thomson is the brains at the water treatment plant. 

Wastewater gets treated differently than water does than stormwater does. The difference? Wastewater is downstream. It's what we put down the drain. It must go through a careful cleaning process before it is put back into the river. It all goes to users downstream. The sludge removed is what powers the plant itself, but you can help by being more careful about what you put down the drain: use biodegradable soap and pour your cleaning water in the yard; don't put hair in the sink or toilet and keep cooking fats out of the drains. 
Water treatment is upstream. It's what we take in from the river flowing into the City. It has come from the headwaters in the mountains and passed through the communities and landscapes to the west and we take a portion of it into the water treatment plant where we remove contaminants and treat for purity. That then, flows into your taps. 
Stormwater is what falls as precipitation from above. It falls on your roof, your car, your yard. You could be capturing it from the roof in a rain barrel, making sure you don't wash your car in the driveway, avoiding the use of pesticides and herbicides in your yard (hey! dandelions are the first bee food!) - and keeping your storm drain clean. All this water collects in the gutters and is transported straight into the river. Whatever you do to your yard, fish drink. That's the concept of "We are all downstream". Luckily, more and more people are getting into gardening, permaculture and xeriscaping as beautiful - and useful - 'English lawn' alternatives. We do, really, live in a semi-arid climate.  
Adding to this list, we also have groundwater, which is what you would use if you have a well.

Away from all the plants and pipes and down to the Oldman River for some fresh air!                We're going to see the weir (Get it?!!)

Nice shot, if I do say so myself. The lovely cottonwoods across the river are budding and waiting to leaf. We saw Spring's first butterflies and a few tiny flowers.

Doug took us to a few different stormdrains that exit into the river. Yes - whatever is on your street- leaves, garbage, paint, soapsuds ... whatever your pour into the gutteror the street drain ... DOES NOT GET TREATED. It flows straight into the river and straight onto wildlife like beaver and trout. It is important for us, as neighbours, to keep storm drains clear. The City can't possibly come around several times a year to do this. We must have an interest in keeping our water wildlife healthy and care about human populations downstream. 

The "Yellow Fish Road" program is a way for school kids to learn about storm drains and water. They paint on the little yellow fish on the storm drains as a way of reminding people that whatever goes down there directly impacts fish.

                     It was a beautiful day for filming and we had the best tour guide ever:                                          Thanks, Mr. Water - Doug Kaupp - and thank you to the City of Lethbridge!

For more information about your drinking water, please visit
The OWC is seeking further Collaborative Partners who would like to showcase in video how they are making the watershed a better place to live, work and play. Please get in touch!