Our hands may permanently smell like latex gloves when we return to the U.S. However, after seeing small worms in the wastewater samples, I think I’ll keep them on. Both Matt and I agree that antibacterial hand gel wins the award for most valuable item packed! Really the wastewater is pretty dilute and so not too gross.
Monday was a bit of a roller coaster. Our morning started off with a walk to the Imhoff tank. We were greeted not only by the normal characters (goats, dogs, donkeys, roosters, and small children), but also by an unexpected sight: half of the system was empty! We found out later that the town plumber was draining it (we still don’t know exactly whyâ€”other than they are now overzealous with the cleaning). While it’s not good for wastewater to be discharged directly into the stream (especially because it dumps into Lago Yajoa below), we used the opportunity to take pictures of the innards of the tank and document depths.
During the day we got a lot accomplished in terms of purchasing materials, but at the same time couldn’t find some items and had to rethink how we are going to measure the flow into our system. After about half a day of Spanish I start zoning out a bit. Speaking and listening tires me out.
We’ve had some fun figuring out how to transport gallons of wastewater back to our lab space. Basically we are a pair of pretty crazy gringos with Matt chauffeuring a big blue garbage can in the front seat of the car, while I hold it tight from the back. But it works! The rental car folks are seriously going to wonder what happened to their new Honda. With a lot of the transportation and materials lined up we’ve started doing all the water quality tests that we came here to do. Today was productive and it felt good to record data.
I do want to back up a bit for all of you who I might be confusing about Imhoff tanks vs. oxidation ponds. Basically an Imhoff tank is a specially designed septic tank. However, rather than being for one house it can be designed to serve a city and so is a huge concrete structure. Water flows in the top into a sedimentation chamber and all of the big chunks of solids fall to the bottom. Beneath the sedimentation chamber is another chamber that is called the digester. This is where bacteria break down the solids into stable sludge ready to be pumped, dried, and reused as fertilizer.
Thsi picture shows workers preparing the Imhoff tank for the for the pilot test of Chemically Enhanced Primary Treatment (CEPT).
An oxidation pond, on the other hand, actually looks like a lake. Different organisms thrive in differently designed ponds, but the ones we visited used algae to treat the waste. On the pro-side of using an oxidation pond is you don’t have to pump sludge nearly as often. However, they require a ton of space. There are really a lot of factors that determine whichâ€”the tank or the pondâ€”should serve a community.
OK, so for those of you that I’m boring with the wastewater talk I do want to convey that our hosts are really great. We live at a hotel right up the hill from the city’s central park. On any typical day we hear music blaring, see men playing the card game “Casino,” and we can buy pretty much anything we want on the main street. We have made friends with a 10-year-old boy named Gabriel who works at the hotel. He’s as smart as a whistle and an excellent door opener. We are only about a two-minute walk from the municipal offices for whenever we want to pop our heads in and talk to the city engineers or the Mayor. We can walk another five minutes and reach Dona Prisci’s house for a generous breakfast, lunch and dinner. Although we think our cholesterol is going to skyrocket from all the eggs we’re eating, everything is very well prepared and tasty.
We enjoy the help and guidance of a gentleman named Evers. He owns a restaurant, is an aspiring politician, and was assigned by the Mayor to take care of us. We aren’t exactly sure what he does all day other than walk around and network, but he has been helping us immensely to get the things we need and he’s been practicing English with us and vice versa with us for our Spanish. Evers was the one who took us to the futbol game on Sunday (which was great by the way). We later found out he owns the team.
All right. I must head out for now. Basically we are living the good life and hope that everything is also going well back in the states! Boston, enjoy that snow