Would you drink it?

Mark your calendar for April 30 sewer tour

Posted 4/13/22


It’s the test at the end of the tour that amazes most people, says Betty Anne Rogers, executive director of the Warwick Sewer Authority.

One would think it would be easy. …

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Would you drink it?

Mark your calendar for April 30 sewer tour



It’s the test at the end of the tour that amazes most people, says Betty Anne Rogers, executive director of the Warwick Sewer Authority.

One would think it would be easy. After all, one bottle contains drinking water and the other the effluent from the sewage treatment plant that daily processes more than five million gallons of waste water. That’s water and its contents from thousands of home toilets, showers, dish washing and washing machines in addition to the wastewater of restaurants, hotels, the airport, Kent Hospital, schools and colleges and retail and manufacturing operations. 

The clarity of the effluent that flows into the Pawtuxet River is comparable to the bottle of drinking water.

“Look closely and it has a slight tinge,” said Rogers. 

Would she drink it?

The answer is “yes” if it went through an additional processing procedure to remove chemicals. But she notes the effluent meets the standards for safe discharge in the river. In addition, the quality of the effluent makes it ideal for landscape watering systems -- not that Warwick or Rhode Island faces a shortage of water.  Her point: The level of treatment at the Warwick plant is on a par with plants in other parts of the country where the effluent is used for other purposes. Wastewater isn’t waste. 

Those attending the Warwick Sewer Authority open house on Saturday, April 30 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. will see and learn how the fifty-brew arriving at the treatment plant is purified.

Invitations to the open house were included in the WSA’s last quarterly billing. The open house will also be advertised on the city’s website, social media and the Beacon.  The authority has held open houses and tours in the past, and Rogers wants to bring them back to show what taxpayers have invested in the environment. Tours take about 45 minutes. Visitors, in groups of five to ten, will learn the steps to the treatment process, seeing the massive infrastructure of pipes, pumps and tanks that make up the plant. That’s part of it, yet it is the lab, Rogers says, that often becomes the star attraction.

It’s there that conditions for the plant’s diligent workers, millions of them are carefully monitored.  Rogers who since she was a young girl has had a passion for microbiology describes what visitors will see when looking at a drop from the plant under a microscope.  

She says the hook-shaped bacteria have cilia that help them feed off pollutants thereby cleaning the wastewater. There are scores of them in a single image and “that’s just on drop,” she says.  The plant has nine 300,000-gallon tanks used to complete the cleansing cycle. Rogers is looking for the authority to add a tenth so as to bring the plant up to its designed capacity of processing 7.7 million gallons of wastewater daily.  She projects the cost at $1.5 million with the improvement funded with a bond from the Rhode Island Infrastructure Bank. Construction would start this year and would be completed in 2023.

The treatment plant started operations in June,  1965. It has undergone extensive expansion and refinements with the development of new technology and the growth of the system. The newest and largest of recent additions, the Bayside project that will make sewers available to more than 900 property owners  in Highland Beach, Riverview and Bayside is under construction and so far, said Rogers is on schedule and budget. Open trench installation of pipes is being done by D’Ambra Construction in the Highland Beach. When it comes to the interceptor on Tidewater Drive and laterals from there the process will transition to directional drilling so as not to disturb Native American archeological features identified in the last 20 years and a major reason for delays in moving ahead with Bayside sewers.

The authority is also in the midst of major repairs to its infrastructure after a break in the Oakland Beach interceptor under Sandy Lane underscored deterioration of the concrete pipes from hydro sulfide gas resulting from flow stagnation. Surveys using cameras of the interceptor and the airport interceptor found extensive areas of deterioration of both pipes. The authority is in the process of slip lining the pipes, a process of lining the pipes with a resin based material that hardens like fiberglass to form a pipe within a pipe. The airport interceptor that connects to the plant is nearing completion and is the reason why pipes and heating stations used to force hot water into the newly lined pipes to trigger the hardening of the resin lining are visible along Airport Road and Jefferson Boulevard. The above ground pipes serve as a bypass to the underground pipes being renovated.  Rogers said the process has taken somewhat longer than projected due to the buildup of “grit” in the system. She said even after cleaning, lines needed a second cleaning to ensure an effective relining.

Of course, those taking the tour on April 30 can view an overall map of the complete system. They’ll get to see its heart that underwent rebuilding following the 2010 floods that breached Pawtuxet River dikes  and submerged the plant and the nearby Warwick Animal Shelter under eight feet of water. The dikes has since been heightened and reinforced. 

Rogers finds is propitious that the revival of a plant tour falls on the 50th year anniversary of the signing of the Clean Water Act. 

And as icing to the tour, there will be refreshments along with bottled drinking water.  

Reservations aren’t required. 

As Rogers says, come see and learn what this investment means to the public and the environment.

Additional information is available on the authority’s Facebook page:

sewer tour, sewers, tour


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