Wastewater is not that Waste

By Chawirakan Nomai (Ploy), Thailand

Monday, September 12 2016

After spending our adventurous weekends in Glacier National Park, now it is time for us to get back to the University of Montana. This week is our last week here in Missoula and I challenge myself to do my best in everything before departing to Louisiana. I started my Monday with cereal, greek yogurt and hot strong coffee as I knew that today is gonna be a long day. Peter, Shanti and Pat waited all of us at the hotel lobby with big smiles on their faces. Our today’s activity was study tour in City of Missoula Wastewater Treatment (CMWT) and Missoula’s Hybrid Poplar Water Reclamation Project. Once we got to the CMWT, the winds blew so hard and it hit the strong bad smell on our noses. However, no one surprised about the smell because we were at the point where all the wastewater in town had ended up.

Photo 1: Shirk and Claire’s reactions to the wastewater smell

Then Mr. Starr Sullivan, superintendent of CMWT, gave us a tour around the station. He explained us about where all the water goes after we use it. So, yes, all the city waste water are sent to this treatment center and it takes about 10 – 12 hours for the treatment before it enters the Clark Fork River. Wastewater will be reused again after releasing to the Clark Fork River. This treatment increases up to 12 million gallons of water a day to Missoula’s water supply. Plus, all of the solid waste that come together with wastewater will be removed and are made into usable compost.

Photo 2: City of Missoula Wastewater Treatment tour with Mr. Sullivan

Photo 3: Wastewater treatment system

One thing that I found out more about CMWT was that their responsibility was not only the wastewater treatment, what gave them more works were the solid trash like fabric, plastic or hard papers from flushed water in the toilet disturbing their treatment system. CMWT had to break down all this trash and collect it out to the landfill. I felt good to myself that I never ever disposed any trash in the toilet. Then, Peter raised up a simple but good question to Mr. Sullivan that ‘what is the behavior that you want Missoulian to change in order to help with the wastewater treatment system?’. Mr. Sullivan said that he wants people to stop putting the trash into the toilet so that it can help CMWT to work faster and easier. Here you can see in the photo how huge the trash are. All of these trash are collected from the city wastewater by CMWT.

Photo 4: Mountains of trash collected from city wastewater

I was exploring those mountains of trash while our GTAs walked us to the forest behind CMWT and found out later that those forest is Missoula Hybrid Poplar Plantation. Mr. Mark Vander Meer, the restoration ecologist, met us in along the way to the poplar plantation and gave us some information about the importances of the poplar trees. I was very surprised when I knew how the poplar trees help recover groundwater quality and soil quality.

Photo 5: Mr. Mark Vander Meer

Mr. Meer then asked us about how was our field trip in Butte last Tuesday, we all said that it was super cold that day. He laughed and explained that he has another project there to recover the abandoned mining areas of Butte because the soil and the groundwater quality were severely damaged by mining industry. What he asked us to do was helping him to mark the willow trees that grew among poplar plantation because the bioengineer team in Butte recovery project will cut its branches this winter and grow them in Butte’s damaged areas.

Photo 6: YSEALI fellows are helping Mr. Meer to mark to willow trees

In my opinion, this activity was my favorite part of the day because I felt like we,YSEALI, have been given a lots of good thing from Montana state and this is a small thing that we can help them back in the long-term future. I wish they can recover the natural resource in historic city like Butte soon. One more impressive thing for me was when Peter as a Missoulian representative expressed his thankful feeling to us for helping Montana. 🙂

Our long day paid off by nice dinner in Kyra Jean Williams Fall Festival held at Food Zoo of UM. The event was decorated beautifully by local decoration that gave more sense of the farm life. The smell of food filled up the dining room and it even made me want to reach out to all food bars when I got in. Looking at the food, I still remember those carrots and beets that I helped PEAS farm to harvest on last Wednesday and now all those veggies all cooked for people in the city. I had a great dinner at the fair while listening to the folk live music and felt thankful to everyone who gave me a chance to be here. I love people here and more than that I love myself when I can contribute good things back to them. 🙂

Photo 7: My dinner plate at Kyra Jean Williams Fall Festival

Photo 8: Well-decorated Dining table

Thanks for reading!

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