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Fifth-graders track Superior wastewater treatment

Fifth-grade students from Four Corners Elementary peer into the final clarifier pools at the city of Superior Wastewater Treatment Plant on Friday, May 10. (Maria Lockwood / mlockwood@superiortelegram.com)1 / 3
Fifth-grade students from Four Corners Elementary School tour the Wastewater Treatment Plant in Superior on Friday, May 10, with water resources specialist Megan Högfeldt, center. About 300 students from the Superior School District visited the plant during a two-week period this spring. (Maria Lockwood / mlockwood@superiortelegram.com)2 / 3
Students listen to water resources specialist Megan Högfeldt, left, discuss how once water leaves this stage of the treatment process, it is 99 percent clean. (Maria Lockwood / mlockwood@superiortelegram.com)3 / 3

Four Corners Elementary School fifth-graders toured the city of Superior's wastewater treatment plant Friday, May 10. From initial screening to the final ultraviolet treatment, students followed the process of cleaning the city's water.

Mary Jane Fouts' class located where the clean water was deposited back in Superior Bay; asked questions about the "bugs" used to break down waste in the water; and giggled when they entered the odorous belt filter press, where the collected organic matter and sludge is collected.

"The kids love that we say 'poop' so often," water resources specialist Megan Högfeldt said.

For more than two decades, fifth-graders from the Superior School District have been touring the treatment plant. This year, about 300 students attended tours over a two-week period.

The annual tours are aimed at building water literacy.

"It's technically their wastewater, and to know the process that the water takes is really important because eventually it will end up in Lake Superior and that will be our drinking water," Högfeldt said.

Andrea Crouse, water resources program manager for the city, said one of their key messages is, "Don't use your toilet as the trash can." If you think flushing a goldfish constitutes a burial at sea, she said, think again. Larger pieces like fish are filtered out at the very beginning of the treatment process.

Transportation costs for the annual tours are paid for through the city's stormwater and wastewater treatment fund. Crouse said they plan to add the Poplar Wetland Basin to their curriculum in the future.

Following the tour Friday, students put their math and science skills to use, focusing on the importance of clean water and ways they can make a difference.

Water consumption isn't equal. The students were surprised to learn that the average daily water use per person is 600 liters in the U.S. compared to Uganda, where daily use is 10 liters.

With their teacher, the children brainstormed ways they could conserve water. Taking shorter showers and adjusting the water level when washing clothes could help, they decided. So would flushing the toilet less often.

"If it's yellow, let it mellow," Fouts said, quoting a common saying. "If it's brown, flush it down."

Checking for leaks can also help. Leaks, both infrastructure and in-home, accounted for 14 percent of water used in the U.S., according to information provided by the city. Crouse said most of the water lost in homes is through leaky toilets — water bleeding from the tank into the bowl due to faulty seals.

Free toilet tabs, which can be used to check for leaks, are available at both the wastewater treatment plant and the front office at the Government Center.

Families can take a more active role in protecting the local watershed by picking up garbage along waterways or adopting a storm drain. Stormwater does not go through the city's treatment plant. Anything picked up by that water goes straight into the nearest waterway.

Storm drain adopters are tasked with picking up garbage, dog waste and other items they find near their storm drain before rain or other precipitation is expected. They also pick up dirt, branches, leaves and grass clippings that could clog the storm drain pipes. There are 3,000 storm drains in Superior; about 40 are currently adopted.

For more information on the program, visit ci.superior.wi.us/592/environmental-services-division.