What a Waste!

Have you ever visited a sewage station? No, neither had I, and I wasn’t planning to either, until one day recently when I was leafing through the newspaper and saw that in honour of World Water Day it would be possible to tour one of Reunion’s wastewater treatment plants. Included in the list of possible sites was Grand Prado, which I had seen being built, and which I drive past almost every day. So my curiosity got the better of me, and I signed up.

A few days later at the meeting point we were equipped with hard hats, and divided into two groups: adults and children. Each group set off with its own guide and a tour that was adapted to the respective age group. We were told to pay close attention as there would be a quiz at the end.

During the visit we learnt all about the processes of treating wastewater: pre-treatment to rid the sewage of garbage, followed by primary treatment to remove heavy solids. Then comes secondary treatment, which changes the biology of the sewage using bacteria, and finally tertiary treatment to improve the water’s quality, after which it is classed as being of ‘bathing standard’ before being discharged into the sea. We were also shown from a distance the round white gasometers that store excess methane, which is a by-product of the treatment process.

The whole visit was surprisingly unsmelly; at one point two volunteers were asked to step inside one of the primary treatment rooms to see how pungent the smell could be, but that was as bad as it got. And a little old lady in our group kept asking if the tanks overflowed after heavy rain – this was obviously something she was very worried about!

We also learnt – or were reminded from our school days – about the water cycle, as well as the environmental importance of preserving the limited amount of freshwater we have on the planet. I had forgotten for example that 97% of the Earth’s water is seawater, and only 3% is freshwater.

At the end of the visit came the test. I had expected some sort of multiple-choice affair with answers to be scribbled on a piece of paper, but we were ushered into a small state-of-the-art auditorium with comfy, different-coloured seats for the two teams – in this case adults vs children. Answers were given using an electronic button system linked to each seat, and the pressure was on as the moderator could immediately see who had answered right and wrong! In the end, the kids’ team won, but we were all given freebies, and everybody present had benefited from learning, or being reminded of the importance water has in our daily lives.

Vocabulary

sewage = eaux usées
neither had I = moi non plus
to leaf through = feuilleter
wastewater treatment plant = usine de traitement des eaux usées
to drive past = passer devant en voiture

hard hat = casque de chantier
to set off = démarrer
there would be = il y aurait
to rid = se débarrasser de
garbage = déchets

whole = entier
unsmelly = inodore
pungent = âcre
tank = réservoir
to overflow = déborder

freshwater = eau douce
to scribble = gribouiller
state-of-the-art = de pointe
in the end = finalement
freebie = cadeau

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