The Crappiest Tour in Arizona

The Crappiest Tour in Arizona

Town of Payson local Anna Van Zile shares her experience of Green Valley Water’s Treatment Facility Tour.

by: Anna Van Zile

As a 28-year resident of Payson, I’m not sure why it took so long for me to schedule a tour of the Green Valley Water wastewater treatment facility.  My two children toured the facility in elementary school, and I have had an interest in “waste management” as it applied to my role as an English teacher:  addressing Shakespeare’s Elizabethan bathroom humor when teaching Romeo and Juliet each year.  Maybe it was hearing students referring to the facility as the “floater sinker place” or our annual multi-team cross country race named “Sludge to the Judge,” beginning at Green Valley Water and ending at the Payson Regional Justice Courthouse, that dampened my desire to go.  Whatever the case, any anxiety resulting from the suggestion of a wastewater treatment facility tour has been replaced with a profound curiosity surrounding how we process poop!

Driving up to the Green Valley Water offices, I was struck by the lush greenness of the lawns and the facility’s landscaping.  The plant sits just beyond the Payson Golf Club, which was selected to take advantage of gravity’s natural downhill flow to Green Valley Lakes.

“For me, the fascinating part of the wastewater treatment facility tour was the slightly stinky area of solid waste removal. 

As I checked in for my tour, I was met by the friendly office staff and parents of former Payson High School students.  Garrett Goldman, Green Valley Water District Manager, began our tour with a short walk to the system that monitors incoming waste and discharge of influent wastewater. I hadn’t realized how much our community benefited from the million gallons of wastewater processed daily—well beyond Green Valley Lakes to various school and public fields and golf courses.  Especially during this time of drought, it was reassuring to learn that our aquifer is positively impacted by the treatment process, mainly via its recharge by way of Green Valley Lakes.

For me, the fascinating part of the wastewater treatment facility tour was the slightly stinky area of solid waste removal.  When I think about the approximately 16,000 residents and countless visitors that contribute to our daily waste, it is amazing how little solid waste is removed and how early in the multi-step process it takes place.  Before the tour, I thought of “solid waste” as poop versus pee.  In fact, in treatment plant vernacular, “solid waste” refers to wipes, feminine hygiene products, coffee grounds, eggshells, and other material that should not have been flushed or run through the disposal in the first place—it was here that I learned the importance of the three P’s of acceptable household waste:  (toilet) Paper, Pee, and Poop.

Also amazing are the genius and efficiency of the process.  Considering the chemicals required to treat a swimming pool, it’s almost unfathomable that Green Valley Water’s process is completely organic:  using bacteria to remove phosphorus and nitrogen and eat the remaining solids.  And in terms of productivity, 100 percent of the wastewater flowing into the plant is released to Green Valley Lakes and throughout the Town of Payson.  Even the design of the treatment basins, where the magic happens, includes redundancies so that only one “train” is in use with two others always at the ready.

As a full-time resident of Payson, I am very much aware of the impact of summer visitors to or through our community.  I was surprised to learn that Payson’s wastewater flow stays constant throughout the year.  Because of our mild winters, Payson attracts out-of-state visitors escaping bitter weather, who return home as the temperatures warm, just as valley residents flock north in search of cooler weather in the summer months.

“Any grossness of the past has been replaced with fascinating science, facts I find myself repeating, even in polite company, when the opportunity arises.”

The journey of Payson’s sewage through the plant pretty much ends with the clarifiers. The water that enters these circular tanks looks like milk chocolate with a skimmer running the treated water over the inner edges of the tank; then travels to one of the final steps in the sanitation process: ultraviolet light exposure. A glass of water filled from their spigot at this point is odor-free, clear, and particle-free—a far cry from what is typically flushed! The final crystal clear product is effluent: Class A+ Water.

As a teacher, I learned to use every “tool” to keep my students interested and engaged in literature: the gross factor of chamber pots emptied into the streets of Elizabethan England and raw sewage traveling downriver was effective.  However, I never put any thought into modern wastewater treatment.  Thankfully, the science behind it has come a very long way.  Any grossness of the past has been replaced with fascinating science, facts I find myself repeating, even in polite company, when the opportunity arises.  Just as the public tours dairy farms, dams, and automobile factories, a tour of Green Valley Water is both educational and fascinating.  Perhaps a gift store is in its future where a visitor can purchase a shirt saying, “I toured Green Valley Water, and all I got was this crappy t-shirt!”

Green Valley Water offers public wastewater treatment facility tours on the first Wednesday of every month and will schedule tours privately if you inquire. To RSVP or schedule your tour check out our tours page.