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Making wastewater sexy

Every day, the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant in Greenpoint processes between 300 and 600 million gallons of sewage and runoff.

Romantic? Yes, according to the hundreds of New Yorkers who are signed up -- more on a waiting list -- for three tours of the treatment plant on Saturday.

“Every month we do a tour, and a couple of years ago the tour happened to fall on Valentine’s Day,” said Frank Loncar, Newtown Creek’s facility manager. “Next thing you know, it went viral, and it was all over the world. And all of a sudden it became kind of this interesting date to have.”

Throw in a few Hershey’s kisses in the Visitor’s Center, panoramic views of New York City from the top of the plant’s eight steel “digester eggs,” and you have yourself Valentine’s Day plans.

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“We’re still waiting for someone to get engaged,” Loncar said.

But the Valentine’s lure has a bigger purpose -- teaching New Yorkers how they play a role in preserving the water the rest of the city will eventually drink.

Baby wipes are a big problem, because they don’t break down like toilet paper, Loncar said. Newtown Creek visitors don’t get to see the screens that separate the garbage from the water, perhaps the smelliest part of the not-so-smelly plant, due to safety concerns.

​​ “Wastewater process is a very natural process, actually,” Loncar said. Giant screens remove the biggest pieces of debris from logs to the occasional live turtle, before the smaller particulates are left to settle out of the water. After that it’s on to the bugs. While the water is treated, the sludge left behind, called biosolid, ends up in the iconic digester eggs that rise 145 feet - nearly 15 storeys, above ground. The biosolids give off natural gas which the plant uses to run its own boilers.

The plant already produces enough extra methane to power 5,200 local homes, and will soon do so under a program with National Grid.

So if you’d rather stay snug at home this Valentine’s Day, just guess what’s keeping you warm.

​​ Register for future tours at nyc.gov/dep.

 
 
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