UO recognized for good wastewater practices

Aerial view of the City of Eugene's wastewater facilities. (Courtesy the City of Eugene)

The University of Oregon earned praise from the City of Eugene for its A-plus record of wastewater handling in 2018 — which includes toilet and laboratory wastes.

That means about 132.8 million gallons of UO’s wastewater were processed without a hitch.

The recognition is directed towards the UO Environmental Health and Safety department, which serves as a regulatory liaison with the city's wastewater commission in handling the university’s roughly 364,000 gallon per day yield.

“We're considered a generator of industrial wastewater here in the city, and thus the city participates with regular monitoring of the wastewater we produce. This award just shows we did a good job last year,” said Steve Stuckmeyer, director of the EHS. “This year we basically achieved a perfect record.”

The recognition is part of a federally-mandated pre-treatment program for wastewater in which industrial entities are issued permits and are required to meet standards for proper water management, said Michelle Miranda, environmental services supervisor with Eugene Public Works.

Ensuring correct disposal methods is crucial because the UO's wastewater is eventually deposited back in the Willamette River, after going through the city's treatment plant. Miranda said that processing the wastewater involves solids removal (which are eventually used to make fertilizers), processing with biological organisms to break it down further, chlorinating, and then de-chlorinating before the wastewater is discharged into the river.

She said that an annual award, a letter and certificate are given to businesses that go a full year without any violations.

“It's a really great way that we can partner with local users of the sewer system, and it really highlights how we all care about water quality,” Miranda said.

Jeremy Chambers, a university environmental manager, said that the overarching goal in the maintenance is to keep hazardous wastes (such as flammable, corrosive, and toxic materials) out of the water.

“We want to make sure no [hazardous] waste goes down the drains,” Chambers said.

He explained that the work that goes into achieving such standards include waste pickups for laboratories, regularly communicating with campus entities and training faculty, staff, and graduate employees on proper waste management procedures.

Chambers said that much of UO's output is being generated from what are considered domestic structures, such as housing and the Student Rec Center, as opposed to industrial sites like labs.

“The university's kind of a different scenario because it's like a city within a city,” said Miranda. While some individual businesses may have a higher volume of discharge, she explained, the university has discharge from multiple locations.

Stuckmeyer said that one of the biggest challenges in management is that varied situation on campus.

“We've got a vast diversity in buildings, in infrastructure, and a vast diversity of people,” Stuckmeyer said. “It's one of our long term challenges in ensuring that the level of awareness of the importance of managing our waste that we generate.”

Despite this challenge, Stuckmeyer and Chambers said that the process of working with the campus community to ensure good wastewater practices is fulfilling.

“It’s a collective of everyone at the university that was awarded this certificate,” said Chambers. “We’re just the liaison; it’s the folks that are actually out there every day with that mindset of ‘I’m not going to put it down the drain, I’ll give it to EHS,’ to keep the pipes safe, and keep the wastewater treatment plant safe, and the folks downstream able to have clean water.”

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