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The Elk River Wastewater Treatment Plant: What happens after the flush?

May 1, 2023

The Elk River Wastewater Treatment Plant is beautiful, in an industrial art-deco kind of way. It has massive white tubes, odor-proofed, that pipe the stuff we flush down toilets through the different stages of treatment. The water slowly gets clearer as it moves through the systems, ending in a pond frequented by birds.

Abe Crow, utilities operations supervisor at the plant, asked “do you get the ooglies?” before demonstrating some of the garbage people flush down toilets the system has to sort out.

He said a newer term for these plants are “reclamation facilities,” because there’s a lot of good stuff to be used. Between a third and a half of the plant is powered through methane captured on-site from waste.

“Nobody likes to think about this stuff until it doesn’t work,” said Michael Hansen, deputy director of public works. “It’s something we all take for granted.” Until the toilet doesn’t flush, or the water stops running.

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