All About Treatment and the Engineer Psyche

Today we went on a tour of the Tolt Water Treatment Plant, which provides approximately one-third of the water supply for Seattle. The plant was built under a design-build-operate contract, which means that although it is owned by the city of Seattle, it is operated by American Water. Our tour guide today was Alex Chen, who is extremely passionate about water quality and treatment. However, we weren’t allowed to take any pictures. So here is a basic schematic:

Kidding. Here is a better schematic.

That is also a very basic description. The process is really complicated and lots of chemistry is involved. As you may or may not know, when people start talking about chemistry, all I hear in my head is “Blah blah chocolate milk.”

The problem with chemistry is much the same problem as math. You have to start with a solid foundation. If you don’t take algebra, you can’t take trigonometry. If you don’t take trigonometry, you can’t take calculus. If you don’t take calculus, you can’t take differential equations. My problem with chemistry is that I’m stuck at trigonometry and never found my way past it. When I have time enough and chance, I will violently assault chemistry until it surrenders its mysteries to me. Until then, I’ll stick with real differential equations, which thankfully I’m much better at.

After the tour we had lunch in the Tolt McDonald Park, which is home to a suspension bridge built by unnamed boy scouts. As a civil engineer, I am legally required to be fascinated by bridges, and this one was no disappointment. The rest of the group agreed.