Doors Open 2011!
Mommy has wanted to tour the Robert O. Pickard Environmental Centre for years, but Daddy has always refused on the grounds that it would be smelly. So this year we agreed to let Elizabeth decide. Daddy thought she'd be sure to pick buses or trains, since she is a bit of a transportation junkie. But Mommy was sly. "Do you want to see what happens after you flush the toilet?", I asked. Go and see where "poo-poo" goes? SOLD! She is a toddler after all. So off we headed to Ottawa's only sewage treatment facility.
We were surprised by the sheer size of the place (apparently it's 150 acres). It's so big that their walking tour was two hours long. Luckily they also offered bus tours with several stops along the way. Doors Open locations can be a little uneven - some essentially just open the doors and let you fend for yourself. Robert O is at the other extreme. Scheduled tours in both English and French leaving every half hour, with several activity stations outside and a kid's zone inside meant that we happily spent several hours hanging out. Elizabeth got her face painted, played with warm smoking bubbles (dry ice + bubble mix) and won a prize playing a fishing game. The prize - a package of goldfish crackers - was very much appreciated because Elizabeth was starting to get quite hungry by then. There was also a large dog mascot greeting the kids, handing out poop/scoop biodegradeable bags and educating them on proper disposal of dog poop. Apparently you are supposed to flush it down the toilet. Elizabeth was *terrified* of the dog, which surprised us because normally she points out every doggie she sees and wants to pet them. We even got to see how the trucks clean the pipes and some of the robots and cameras they use to inspect pipes close up.
The incorporation of the bus was fantastic from Elizabeth's point of view because we got to take a bus ride in between trooping around various holding tanks. Two year olds generally are less interested in the information part of tours, so the rapid change of scenery and routine of on-and-off the bus really helped keep her attention.
Before we went on the tour, a guide showed us water samples from every stage of the process. To Brendan's relief, by the time the waste arrives it's pretty diluted from showers, dish drainers and some storm water. Turns out raw sewage here just looks like dirty water. Of the various stops along the tour, only one was particularly smelly. Elizabeth wasn't very happy about that stop. We made her wear an uncomfortable hat AND it was "too 'ot and 'tinky Mommy-dear." Actually I didn't understand the point of the hard hats. They were clear that Elizabeth had to wear one, but it fit very badly (we tightened it all the way). Daddy was glad of his; he otherwise would have bumped his head rather hard on the bus. Really it seemed to be more of a checkbox safety feature than anything, like the life preservers everywhere. One of our fellow tourists asked whether the life preservers had ever had to be used. "No", replied the guide, "and it's a good thing because the pools are so heavily oxygenated that if anyone fell in they'd sink to the bottom" Generally there was a lack of fencing. I would not recommend taking a small child with a tendency to run off.
We got to see the facility's "duck pond" (near the end of the process, so pretty clean), Ottawa "Olympic flame" (they burn off excess gas) and lots of cool looking structures. You can apparently see the torch from the Queensway at night. The "missile silo" is actually for settling out particles. They generate half the power for the facility from the sewage, which I thought was cool and Elizabeth thought was noisy. Pipes, tunnels, huge machines and many pools of water in various states of cleanliness. By the time it cascades back into the river via a rather mesmerizing mini-waterfall, it is cleaner than the river, except for the chlorine, which is going to be removed once they finish constructing a new pool.