We had another sewage overflow into the river downtown the other day. We don’t get them often anymore but we had about a year of rain last week and shit happens. We were warned not to go swimming in the Willamette and they weren’t recommending plating up the fish either.
But it got me thinking about the fact that all the poop in Portland has to go somewhere and frankly I’m not sure just where that is. That’s got to be a lot of poop. I started visualizing the whole city as a sort of thin flaky crust floating over a poop pudding, and began to peer at potholes as portals to perdition. A good imagination is nice but a good sewer system is even better.
So where does it go when you go? I mean, “away” is good enough for me, but still. I don’t even want to see my own shit after it makes its break and that goes double for your-all’s.
I looked it up and basically there’s this one big sewage treatment plant for the whole dang city. Really? How does it all get there?
Well, this is another case of one of my life strategies coming through for me. I’ve learned a lot of stuff over the years and I forget it just about as fast as it goes in. It’s like my past heals over, which has its advantages, but it doesn’t brighten me up much. However, I have a wide network of friends who do know and retain all kinds of shit. And when it came to shit, I immediately thought of Katie.
Katie’s retired now but she used to work at, as she put it, the Department of Where It Goes When You Flush. I know enough not to call her when it doesn’t go anywhere—you want a plumber more than a bureaucrat there—but I called her up for this. Where does it go and how does it get there?
Good old gravity writes the ticket, mostly. But that seems almost impossible. This is a hilly town. How in the world can you design a sewage treatment plant that’s downhill from everyone? And doesn’t this mean that everything ends up at the river? Rivers and sloughs pretty much define the low spots.
In fact, all our sewage used to end up in the river until 1952. They didn’t recommend swimming then either. Although maybe you could walk across the river some days.
But in various places, things do get stopped up, and that’s why you need pumping stations. There’s one by the Burnside Bridge downtown and I know this because when I looked this up it was right there on the map, with a five-star rating. There was only one commenter, but he was really pumped up. “This is the very best sewage pumping station I have ever visited. I tour the country looking for municipal pumping stations, and I never miss a chance to stop at the Burnside Bridge station.” Get in line, ladies! Thank goodness they didn’t hear from frequent Yelper Skids66 who thinks the poop pump is unbearably slow and the workers are all assholes.
So all the shit meanders to the low points of the system, precisely as it does in our own bodies, and then if it hasn’t made it to the treatment plant it has to get moved uphill. In fact there are over a hundred pumping stations in the area for a little boost wherever it’s needed. The locations where it is needed become evident pretty readily, I would imagine. Once at the plant, it goes through fermentation, which should give you pause if you live in a good beer town like this one.
Katie also says the clean spiffed-up sewage water ends up in the Columbia River, but the remaining, uh, biosolids get shipped to Eastern Oregon and spread out on the grazing land. Eastern Oregon, it should be noted, is downwind of us here, and the cattle aren’t particular.
She also said—be still, my journalist heart—there is a Sewage Interpretive Center. I might have to go, as it were. My guess is social distancing would not be an issue there.
We ratepayers are still paying off a twenty-year 1.4-billion-dollar project called the Big Pipe that has durn near eliminated sewage overflows into the river. Mostly you can’t see it. It’s like spending money to shore up a house foundation instead of buying a new boat. Makes some people grumbly but even Republican poop is going into the treatment plant now. That’s about as good a sign of a civil society as I can think of.
It’s a match made in [insert name of favourite deity’s abode here], your lavatorial humour and the fertile ground of poop propagation. This made my day, so Thank You for lightening the load, as it were.
I am the Poop Apostle.
Republicans poop? Huh…. There always seem so full of shit, I just assumed that they retained it all.
No, they spread it the heck around.
Do you realize, Murr, that tonight’s episode of the PBS show NOVA is called, “Secrets in the Scat”? A preview clip even included wombat cubes. I know I’ll be watching! Your post was well timed.
Really, it’s never a bad time for a poop post.
Here in Maine, spreading the biosolids on fields has resulted in high enough levels of nasty chemicals called PFAS that one dairy farmer can’t sell his milk because the PFAS level in the milk exceeds what are considered safe. Another organic farm has stopped producing vegetables for the same reason. And many wells in homes have been shut.
We’re in deep shit.
Um… holy shit. Y’know, some people think that climate change will take us out. Some think the pandemic will get worse and do it. But it may very well be our own shit — all the garbage that we put out there — that will finally kill us.
Yeah, the biosolids thing is pretty controversial. Stay tuned next post for another development!
I read this both chuckling and cringing, butt I have to ass, is Skids66 a real person? Please say yes! Well Murr, I think it’s terrific you take little for granted, because I swear to God every time I flush I’m grateful for these so-called modern times we live in. But didn’t I read somewhere that ancient Greece had a sewer system too? Pee S. I won’t share where I’m writing this from 🚽😏
I remember being very impressed, and not in a good way, at visiting Monticello for a class field trip and discovering Jefferson’s solution. Which was a toilet open to a tunnel in the floor below and everything excavated by slaves.
“peer at potholes as portals to perdition.” All I can say to that is, “I’m not worthy.” But I do know shit. Having livestock and living with outhouses or home septic systems for more than half my life always keeps it somewhere in the frame of everyday life. With 7 or 8 billion humans on the planet, let alone other animals, makes me wonder how we keep our heads above it all.
I just don’t understand why/how humans have thought, since probably the first humans, that it’s ok to just put anything we don’t want into bodies of water. I live near the Chattahoochee River, and every once in awhile, someone reports on what is in it. Aside from all the drugs, there is everything we don’t want in that river. Where do people think it all goes? I read once that we don’t throw things away; we just relocate them.
The famous line, which cannot be improved on, is “There is no ‘away.'”
I recently had a sewage overflow right here in my own bathroom. Oh the stink! The old pipes in this building cope fairly well until the upstairs tenants choose a half-flush instead of a full-flush, then things don’t get carried all the way down and out. So the back up and resulting gurgles happened in my bathroom. I could hear the weird noises while reading blogs and rushed in there just in time to see the brown river spreading across the tiles. I cleaned, I mopped, I bleached, I threw away the rags and the mop, washed my hands a million times and went back to reading blogs.
You left out “I burned my house down.”
“I might have to go, as it were.” Sewage Interpretive Center. What’ll they think of next?
It did make me think of things like reading tea leaves, and I was wondering if it was a place to interpret scat splat.
Once upon a time I worked at the University of California Richmond Field Station, a site that included SEERL, which stood for “Sanitary Engineering Research Lab” and I don’t recall what the other “E” stood for. The boss told me that the acronym was pronounced “surreal.” There was a valve where experimenters could pull off samples of partially treated effluent, which he called “crap on tap.” Before my time there was an experimental fluidized bed, which was sewage kept in an always-aerated state by blowing air in through the bottom of the tank. I read about a fatal mishap in another town, in which a local official leaned too far over the railing, and — shit, I’ll just let the poem describe the incident.
FINALLY, THE RIGHT METAPHOR
“In this stage of sewage treatment,” said our guide,
“the sludge we made in the previous stage
by letting the sewage settle
goes into what we call
a Fluidized Bed.
The sludge is in these tanks.
We blow air up through the sludge
from the bottom of the tank,
so much air that the sludge is suspended
in something like a thick cloud
that’s always moving.
Now, take note of the double guardrails.
If you fell into a cesspool,
I think we’d all agree
that you wouldn’t like it one bit
but you could float ’til someone pulled you out.
But this stuff would not support you.
You’re much denser than the mixture
of air and muck that’s in the tank,
so you’d go straight to the bottom
and not come up.
There aren’t any large stable pockets of air
down there, so that would be that.
You wouldn’t come up even once,
no matter what you did.
You’d drown. End of story.”
I barely heard a mumble
from the back of our group,
“Sounds like my first marriage!”
Thanks for all that, Jeremy!!
Appreciate the post as I too worked for the agency that deals with the shit here in our city. A correction- There is a second treatment plant that handles crap from the SW hills and other places that cannot be reached by gravity. That sewer station is located in Lake Oswego, OR- our wealthy municipal neighbor.
Also- the poop interpretation center is very interesting. (not sure it is open right now in Covid times). Explains the role of bacteria eating up the, uh, biosolids. What happens to the all the billions of dead bacteria and where the gases produced go…….. (they are used as biofuel). Wish we could redesign our plumbing systems to work better with minimal water….. but that is part of the challenge of old infrastructure.
So hey, do you know Katie? Stay tuned next post for a suggestion. PS The Lake Oswego plant is wonderful, because their shit doesn’t stink.
On a visit to the Biltmore in Asheville, NC, we saw a 2nd floor lavatory with no door. They had placed a huge X made out of something like crime scene tape that criss-crossed from the floor to the wall, blocking off the toilet. I asked why it was there. The docent said we would be surprised to know the number of museum visitors who would try to use that toilet. Now what kind of shithead…oh, never mind…Today we learned that Trump not only tore up documents, but also ate them on occasion, and also flushed them down the toilet which often clogged the plumbing. Remember when he told us that people have to flush 10 or 15 times?
I DO remember that! I would never have suspected him of ever eating his own words.
No sooner did I post my comment then this important public service announcement arrived in my inbox.
Excellent! [Good Lord]
We have a Septic System at this new Mini Farm Home since this subdivision used to be quite Rural, then the City grew up around it. So, I suppose I know exactly where all of ours goes… and boy that back Pasture sure is Green.