egg digesters for valentines day

Love stinks…and wastes for no one!

egg digesters for valentines dayValentine’s Day is just two short days away, so we here at Thirsty in Suburbia are sure that all your romantic plans and reservations have already been made and confirmed. What’s that? You forgot about Valentine’s Day?

Well have no fear you hopeless, albeit forgetful, romantics! The Department of Environmental Protection in New York City is here to save the day! Why not take that special someone on a tour of Newtown Creek Sewage Treatment Plant in Brooklyn!? Just when you thought thought Brooklyn couldn’t possibly get any cooler…

Who needs breakfast in bed!? Highlights of the tour include the giant egg shaped digesters where you and your true love can see the magic of toxic sludge transformation first hand. Don’t let being single stop you from attending. We bet that the smell will rival your bitter attitude towards love. Love stinks, am I right?!

Tours fill up quickly, so try and secure your spot by emailing

Public Art and the Beauty of Sewage Treatment

Most of us have a love-hate relationship with mandatory public art funding. Sometimes the results are seriously wonderful and sometimes they’re seriously silly…money well-spent, or money mis-spent.

Wooden walkway, mountains and outfall: Image of the San Jose/Santa Clara Water Pollution control plant by photographer-in-residence Robert Dawson (Robert Dawson via

This public art project in my view is seriously wonderful. Noted environmental photographer Robert Dawson has spent the past year as the “photographer-in-residence” at the San Jose/Santa Clara sewage treatment plant, a $65,000 project made possible by a city public art ordinance which sets aside 1% funding of selected capital improvement projects for public art.

This is a fantastic proposition as this plant, one of the largest such facilities in California, serves 1.5 million people who’d probably like to have a look at they’ve paid for, as well as what they will be paying for over the next couple decades as the facility embarks on a major 15-year renovation.

A strange conundrum for those who must convince the public to fund large water projects is the fact that most of the infrastructure is invisible to the public (until a pipe bursts). Out of sight, out of mind. Public art is a wonderful way to illustrate that there’s a lot more involved in this process after the dirty water goes down one’s drain.

Many believe that what’s needed to fix crumbling water infrastructure is more money and more engineering. For starters, I think we could use more artists.

Read more about this project and view more photos at, via Aquafornia
See more of Robert Dawson’s portfolio, which includes the fantastic Global Water Project and Water in the West.

Vols Fan Wants to Give Kiffin Some Crap. Literally.

After just one season as head football coach at the University of Tennessee, the not-well-loved Lane Kiffin cut town for California to become the new head coach of the USC Trojans. Now, it’s backlash time! People around these parts hold a mighty tough grudge and don’t take kindly to a snub against their hometown or their home team.

Knoxville attorney Drew McElroy is raising a stink by spearheading what he sees as a fitting honor to the departed and disgraced coach. He has filed paperwork with the Knoxville City Council’s Public Properties and Facilities Naming Committee to rename a wastewater treatment plant the “Lane Kiffin Sewage Center.”

From a story on news.cincinnaticom,

McElroy said after driving down Neyland Drive and seeing all the history, it hit him. Renaming the Kuwahee Wastewater Treatment Plant would be the best way to let Kiffin know he understands why the coach left.

“It dawned on me – Lane Kiffin told us that he hoped the fans would understand. I thought ‘Well, naming the wastewater plant for him would let him know, I think very clearly, we do understand,’” McElroy, an off-and-on season ticket holder said. “We want to memorialize his stay here, and I think this would be doing it appropriately.”

McElroy personally financed the $262 application fee. He doesn’t think the entire facility needs to be renamed – just a part of it. In fact, he stated that just a cesspool at the facility would be enough to satisfy him. We’ll all have to wait and see, though; the committee meets only a few times per year, and it is not certain when they’ll take up this issue.

Personally? Neat idea, but what an insult to the dedicated and hardworking staff of the Kuwahee Wastewater Treatment Plant! They’ve got to hold their heads up around town, after all!

To no one’s surprise,

Calls to the University of Southern California’s Athletic Department requesting comment from the former Volunteer coach were not returned Tuesday.

Both the University of Tennessee and the Knoxville Utilities Board had no official comment on the proposed name change.

We have met the Numptee and He is Us

Mr. Numptee looks at my flooded basement with sewer overflow blockage
Well, didn’t we have a rousing good time writing about Mr. Numptee, the bumbling red-lipped character in Yorkshire Water’s “Bin In, Don’t Flush It” campaign. Mr. Numptee finds himself in a constant state of sewer overflow because, again and again, he puts inappropriate items down the drain. His adventures are super funny to me because WE’RE not Numptees, we know better!

Or do we? Above, here’s Mr. Numptee in MY basement on Saturday night, after the panic of pumping out the sewer water that covered by basement floor. Below, the floor drain. If any water went down the waste pipes or a toilet was flushed, it all came bubbling up here. Gross! That white-ish stuff is TOILET PAPER!
flooded basement drain blockage overflowing with toilet paper

We cancelled our dinner plans and hit the Yellow Pages…at 7:30 pm Saturday. To our great relief, Pat from At Your Service told us he was on the way over. (Now there’s a well-named business!) After what seemed an eternity, but was actually just 30 minutes, the truck arrives.

The truck arrives from At Your Service Drain Specialists Kansas

They unload a monster of a machine. which looks small here, but is one giant hunk of metal. A hydraulic lift lowered in out onto the driveway.

Dan from At Your Service Drain Specialists in Kansas

Pat brought his helper Dan (above); it only takes one guy to do the actual unclogging, but it took both of them to get the “Spartan 1065” down the basement stairs. If this machine could talk…I’ll bet it would have some incredibly bad breath!

Spartan sewer drain cleaning machine used by At Your Service drain specialists Kansas

Through the clean-out opening of the nearby waste stack, Pat started feeding the Spartan’s snake through the line. The end of the snake has a disk-shaped tool that rotates and cuts its way through the sewer line. Below, Pat patiently feeds the line as all of us watch the drain anxiously. “What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever taken out of a sewer line,” I ask. “Feminine Products,” he says. “Tampons. That happens a lot.” Pat says he nearly always clears the obstruction within 100 feet. (The Spartan’s limit is 125 feet.)

Pat from At Your Service drain specialists Kansas cleaning out the line

“That’s it.” We all look as the water drains from the floor, off to the wastewater stream where it belongs. Believe it or not, the photo below depicts a beautiful sight that brought me great happiness!

My clogged basement drain is finally cleared

So what caused it? Tree roots? No, Pat says our home is too new for that; roots are a common problem with homes that older than 40 years. In fact, our clog was caused by “feminine products.”

WHAT! Yes, the clog was caused by tampons. Now, there are 3 women in this household and I promise you, we knew that “sanitary products” or “feminine products” were verboten to flush, but for as much information as we’ve read on this topic, we thought they meant sanitary napkins, not little bitty tampons. Manufacturers help perpetuate the myth. From the Tampax website, you will read…

Tampax tampons can be flushed in toilets connected to city sewer systems. Frequent flushing of tampons is not recommended for septic systems.

Along with the misinformation, another problem is the silly modesty of terming these products  “feminine care.” If you mean tampons, say so!

So now we know. Here’s Pat and Dan, undoubtedly smiling because they’re done at my house and can go home and enjoy what’s left of their Saturday night. (I’m smiling too, at least until I have to face the prospect of cleaning up after a sewage overflow into my basement.)

Dan and Pat from At Your Service drain specialists Kansas

Shiny shamrocks on the truck of At Your Service drain specialists KansasI never expected see Mr. Numptee at my house, or a truck like this in my driveway. So let me state this directly: do not flush tampons. Also: according to Pat, who should know, do not flush baby wipes. Even the type that claim to be “flushable” are definitely not. As the truck leaves, I notice one awesome thing: the “lucky” shamrocks on the truck are made of reflective material, so I see them shining until the truck goes out of sight. And armed with a little more knowledge, I expect to be luckier in the future as far as sewer blockages go.

What’s Cookin’? Tomato Surprise!

Sewerage Garden (photo: Yorkshire Water)

Sewerage Garden (photo: Yorkshire Water)

Care for some “organically grown” tomatoes? Dozens of tomato plants are sprouting up in sewage works and places where sewage travels in a process that works like this: 1) people eat tomatoes; 2) people excrete tomato seeds; 3) seeds travel via wastewater to sewer works; 4) seeds resurface as stray plants in odd sewage- and sludge-touched locations.

It’s not an uncommon occurrence, but this year’s poo produce crop is apparently impressive! From the Yorkshire Water website,

Over the course of the summer, hundreds of tomato plants have sprung up at our treatment works across the region, often sprouting in some of the most unlikely of places, including skips full of toilet paper and other rags removed during the treatment process.

And whilst there have been instances in the past of tomatoes cropping up at works in the region, it is thought that the higher-than-usual temperatures over the summer, coupled with regular bouts of rainfall, have played their part in ensuring many of our works can boast a bumper yield this year.

They arrive at sewage works where some are among the waste removed at the first stage of the treatment process before being compressed and stockpiled in skips – and it’s in these that many tomato plants have taken root and flourished.

If you should see a mysterious tomato sprouting randomly in the wild, it might be because…umm…most of the seeds find their way into

…much-sought-after compost, which is then distributed to farms and local authorities.  Invariably, the compost contains tomato seeds which grow into plants, prompting regular stories from farmers who report rogue tomatoes growing among their crops.

Tomatos sprout from Hoboken sidewalk cracks (photo:

Tomatoes sprout from Hoboken sidewalk cracks in 2007 (photo:

In 2007, citizens in Hoboken, New Jersey protested that wayward tomato plants mysteriously growing in desolate urban settings testified to the severity of the city’s flooding and sewer overflow problems. As reported on,

“We know raw sewage is backing onto our streets. You can’t say that this is definitively from the flooding, but it’s very possible,” said Dawn [Zimmer]. “These tomatoes were not planted here. Does this look like a community garden to you?” The plants are growing in an empty lot, filled with mud and gravel. In one spot, gnarled tomato plants are even growing out of cracks in the sidewalk. On Marshall Drive, they are growing from underneath a chainlink fence.

I guess this is teaching us, in semi-biblical fashion, that you reap what you go. Get cookin’!
Recipe: Aunt’s Florence’s Tomato Surprise
(Ingredients include—seriously!—canned tomatoes.)

International Poo News: These Stories are Moving Fast

For the First Time Ever, Donuts Actually
Hamper the Movement of Poo

You know what a couple of greasy donuts can do to your digestive track. Just imagine what a whole plant-full could do to a sewer system.

May 29, 2009: Fairfax County (Virginia) is suing Krispy Kreme doughnuts for alleged damage to its poo pipes…clogs that resulted in raw sewage leaks that shut down the southern Fairfax sewer system. The suit was filed after Krispy Kreme refused to pay a $1.9 million bill for repairs to the system. The lawsuit says the damage was caused by “excessive quantities of highly corrosive wastes, doughnut grease and other pollutants.“

PUNCH LINE: The county says its workers once ran a closed-circuit camera inside a pipe to show the grease deposits, but the camera got stuck in the goop.
SILVER LINING: The Krispy Kreme goop could be used to prevent sewage from entering streams or waterways.

Read all about it here. Photo: New York Magazine

Poo in the Bayou, “We already used to it.”

May 29, 2009: At the Wilkerson’s Memorial Day Cookout in Bayou La Batre, Alabama, some uninvited guests have floated by from the nearby ditch water. Over the weekend, rain pushed more than 30,000 gallons of raw sewage into the streets.

Mobile County Resident Belinda Wilkerson says, “You don’t know what the hell’s in them sewages.” She’s not shocked, either. “Yeah, I know what they talking about cause you can see it any time it rains. All that nothing but human waste laying out.”

In fact, people in these parts aren’t even fazed by stormwater back-ups nor are they anxious about long-promised upgrades to the old and inadequate sewage treatment facility.

PUNCH LINE: Local resident Alisha Harbison says.”We already got used to it. What’s the difference. I mean, we already used to it.”
SILVER LINING: The local wastewater utility has no difficulty hiring workers who will dig in and do the dirty work.

Read all about it here. Photo:

International Public Housing Update:
Amenities Included, Infrastructure Optional.

May 26, 2009: In Kuatan, Malaysia, Abdullah Salleh and his wife were thrilled to be moving into a new house provided under the Hardcore Poor Development Programme (PPRT).

Upon moving in their new quarters, though, they discovered they needed to employ old methods to answer the call of nature, i.e., digging holes in his backyard.

The house DOES have a toilet. But the house DOES NOT have pipes to bring in water and to remove waste water.

They were forced to dig a well by the side of his house and use a pump to fill pails and containers with water for bathing, cooking and washing clothes. Seems the contractor built the washroom and toilet but failed to equip them with a sewage system and piped water. Abdullah understandably is “worried that human waste might contaminate our water supply and make us sick.”

PUNCH LINE: Inderapura assemblyman Datuk Shafik Fauzan Sharif points out that, “Abdullah actually lives with his in-laws at their home nearby.”
SILVER LINING: Abdullah has a unique opportunity to become closer to his in-laws.

Read all about it here. Photo: The New Straits Times

Aerial Penguin Poo a Scientific Triumph

June 2, 2009 via AP – In remote Antarctica, researchers have been unable to figure out just where colonies of emperor penguins live and if their population is in peril. But Eureka! Scientists have discovered they can  track the penguins by following their excrement from space.

Because the large penguins stay on the same ice for months, their excrement stains make them stand out from space. Scientists at the British Antarctic Survey found by accident a reddish-brown streak on the colorless ice when they were looking at satellite images of their bases.

The stain was penguin excrement (particularly smelly stuff) and it gave researchers an idea to search for brown stains to find and track penguins. They found the same telltale trails all over the continent. Using satellite data, the scientists found 10 new colonies of penguins and overall, 38 colonies were spotted from above.

PUNCH LINE: One noted researcher said that salty penguin poo, over time, will corrode one’s boots, adding that he has lost nearly a dozen pairs to it in 35 years of penguin research.
SILVER LINING: Using satellite technology, researchers can wear more stylish boots.

Read all about it here. Photo: