Education exhibit focuses on wastewater cycle BY Peggy Caylor
Officials at the Portland Bureau of Environmental Services (BES) know that less than 1 percent of the planet’s water is available to living things in fresh, liquid form. Convincing and educating the rest of the city’s population about water’s scarcity is their challenge. They hope to succeed in that regard with a 1,700-square-foot, $200,000 exhibit that explains what happens “after the flush” and much more about wastewater processing.
The center of the exhibit, designed by the Portland-based design firm Formations Inc., is the Columbia Boulevard Wastewater Treatment Plant, where 75 percent of the metro area’s sewage is processed. The three-floor exhibit was intended to help the public: * recognize how limited and precious the water supply is; * understand why it is important to keep the water supply clean; * understand how the wastewater treatment process works; * accept responsibility for stewardship of the water; * strive to be careful and use water conservatively; and * acknowledge Portland’s commitment to and protection of clean water.
The three floors are grouped thematically. The first floor explores broad concepts about the earth’s water supply. The second shows the inner workings of the wastewater treatment plant and explains how the treatment process makes water safe enough to be released into the Columbia River.
The third floor offers some eye-catching samples of debris extracted from sewage, and it enables visitors to view headworks equipment in action. Historic photos, which give visitors a sense of how methods of dealing with wastewater have changed over time, also are of interest, as are Portlanders’ stories about wastewater treatment and its impact on their environment.
Visitors who venture to the “Underground” can experience the sensation of being down a manhole where a network of pipes resembles the subterranean maze beneath the streets. A separate area draws visitors’ attention to the hazards of sewer overflow.
“The design was targeted at high school groups and tours, but we have even had engineering students visit the exhibit,” says Mark Mitchell, maintenance planner. “We get plumbers’ unions and nursing groups,” adds Operations Manager Ken Rosenstock. “The nursing groups are interested in it from a public health standpoint.” He estimates that 1,200 to 1,500 people visit the exhibit each year.