Liam Richardson, 6, of South Fayette tries out different water switches in the 14th Alcosan Open House at Allegheny County Sanitary Authority on Saturday.
Thomas Bird, left, 6, and her sisters Elizabeth, 5, and Rebecca, 4, of Beaver pet a rescued red-tailed boa on Saturday at the 14th Alcosan Open House at Allegheny County Sanitary Authority.
By Mark Belko / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Joseph Schuster just had to stop before work Saturday to check out the big event on the North Shore — no, not a Pitt or Steelers football game but an open house at a sewage treatment plant.
“Who would have ever guessed that these are all in the Ohio,” gushed Mr. Schuster of Bethel Park as he marveled at the fish pulled from the river and displayed in a huge aquarium at the Allegheny County Sanitary Authority facility.
Mr. Schuster was among a big crowd of people, from college students to parents with children in tow, who spent part of their Saturday learning about the inner workings of the sewage treatment process.
There also were lessons on the kinds of things that can clog up the system that no ordinary plunger can remove. A big one is grease, which can play the same kind of havoc with sewer lines as it can with your arteries.
Saturday marked the 14th year for the open house at the 59-acre Woods Run facility. Mr. Schuster, a pharmacist at UPMC Presbyterian, wanted to come for years and finally made it Saturday. He wasn’t disappointed.
“I just love the science and the technology that is required to run the whole system,” he said. “I’m pretty impressed.”
That’s just the idea, said Arletta Scott Williams, Alcosan’s executive director. She noted the goal of the annual event is to educate people on the “incredibly essential service” that the agency provides to the region.
“We want people to understand what it is that we’re doing, how they can participate in parts of that process, and what the value is — what they are receiving for their money,” she said.
That’s particularly important now, with Alcosan rates increasing to pay for federally mandated sewer system improvements to prevent the discharge of raw sewage into area waterways during “wet weather events” when stormwater backs up the entire system. Rates jumped 11 percent last year and this year, and are expected to do so again in 2017.
Saturday’s event, Ms. Williams said, also helped visitors to get to know members of the Alcosan workforce, many of whom volunteer for the open house. Some people still think of wastewater treatment professionals as “Ed Norton in the sewer,” she said, referring to the character in the old “Honeymooners” television show.
The open house, she noted, highlighted the talents of the employees and the pride they take in the jobs they are doing. Each day, the plant treats 250 million gallons of sewage from Pittsburgh and 82 other municipalities.
This year’s event featured more than 40 exhibitors, from Ask the Plumber to Tasow, a Slippery Rock nonprofit that rescues exotic animals like snakes and lizards (no, not from sewer lines). Its big attraction was a six-foot-long red tail boa, not the kind of snake used by the aforementioned plumber.
Among the most popular draws were tours of the Alcosan plant, Science Rocks, and the aquarium, which featured more than 20 different species like Longnose Gar, Smallmouth Redhorse, Black Buffalo, Spotted Bass, and Flathead Catfish culled from the river Friday.
The fact that so many fish congregate near where Alcosan returns treated water to the Ohio is a good sign, officials said. The ones that were on display Saturday will be returned to the river after the open house.
Children also had the chance to fish for themselves in a pond game similar to the one found at Kennywood. But instead of hooking fish, players used magnets to snag junk that shouldn’t be thrown into storm sewers, rivers or ponds. Winners got a pack of Swedish Fish candy.
The exhibit definitely left an impression on some.
“I learned to keep the ponds and lakes clear of habitat destruction and pollution,” said Callan Bunger, 8, of Franklin Park, who attended the open house with his family.
His father, Andrew, said he liked the event, which was recommended by Callan’s teacher. “It’s a nice place for a lot of green, environmental and educational instruction to come out into the public,” he said.
By the end of the open house, Alcosan estimated that 2,328 people had attended, about 300 more than last year.
And on this day no one had to hold his or her nose. While sewage treatment facilities typically are not known for their gentle odors, the only smells that wafted through the plant Saturday were of grilled hamburgers and hot dogs, free to all of those who visited.
Mark Belko: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1262.
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