Let’s put some lipstick on this pig: What the wastewater utility does and why it is so important
By Sam Warp Jr.
Marshfield Wastewater Plant Superintendent
Ed Norton, of the 1960s TV show “The Honeymooners,” did little to glamorize the duties of a wastewater operator. Of course, back then one was lucky if the industry was referred to as the “sewer.”
The cast of descriptive terms used to describe this industry usually descends downward to the four-letter family. Today most agree with the term “wastewater,” although the trend is to rename the industry to more closely resemble what we do as water recyclers.
The wastewater industry does not make water or generate water. We clean the water. In Marshfield we take what comes down the pipe, remove the solids, clean up the water, and send it to Mill Creek.
Our discharge runs through a long channel below Veterans Parkway. We sample the creek before the channel merges together, and one would be surprised how much cleaner our discharge is compared to Mill Creek. In the past there have been times where fish would not live in the creek water but did live in the “wastewater.”
Everyone has seen many streams and rivers rise to flood-stage levels and turn chocolate brown during a summer rain or the spring snow melt. During those events our discharge is still clear. Most have seen the summer effects on various lakes, rivers, and impoundments like Petenwell Lake, which turn green from the algae.
This also happens in stretches of Mill Creek. Then, too, our discharge is clear.
Through all the cycles of freezing in the winter to the bugs of the summer, our goal is to do our duty and clean up the water. We have little control of what happens upstream of the wastewater plant and no control as it leaves the city limits, but we do more than what is required by the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Natural Resources.
The city of Marshfield provides many other benefits to Mill Creek as well. In the heat of a long, dry summer, there would be very little of a flowing creek without the city’s input of clear wastewater.
Mill Creek is designated as an impaired waterway by the DNR because of the lack of dissolved oxygen. We oxygenate the water as it leaves the plant so it emulates a rocky trout stream. In the big picture, it has no effect downstream, but, again, it is doing our part. We have sampled the creek for many years to show the effects of construction and farming practices along with the benefits of proper stormwater management.
Yes, the majority of our job is not so pretty with such duties as unplugging pumps with the not-intended-to-be-flushed “disposable wipes” or cleaning the sanitary mains and manholes under the streets of the city.
We are more visible when at the lift stations, televising laterals, or helping a resident in need, but there is more to our job. Some of which is ensuring a clean environment and healthy future for our kids and grandkids. The role of a wastewater operator is not glamorous, but even a pig can look better when shown in the right light and by adding a little lipstick.