Welcome to Tybee Island, the first barrier island down-coast from the Savannah River. It is about three miles long and two miles wide, and mirrors Folly Island by Charleston both in its geographic positioning from the harbor and its charm. It is not a gated island, there is no strict building code to force conformity of one's style of home and there is no one to impress or put on airs for. So it has that eclectic collection of people and structures that has a lot of personality and allows you to feel like its ok to put on the shorts and flip-flops and just be yourself.
I met Stanley Bearden and Bill Curry, who work for the island's water department. This island has a population of roughly 3,000 in the winter time which swells to 40,000 during the peak vacation months of summer. These are the guys that take care of getting clean water distributed to everyone and then taking care of it once it has been used. I guess I am a bit spoiled living in this country - I expect clean water to use but really didn't know much about how it is handled on the scale required for a city. Well, I learned a lot today.
The island has three water wells, each is roughly 450 feet deep and taps into what is called the "Florida Aquifer." Two of the water wells pump the water up into water towers in order to maintain constant water pressure. The third pump has a system that keeps constant pressure on what it delivers. All three wells are tied together into an inter-linked matrix of fresh water supply lines, eventually ending up at each house and then on to each spigot, shower and toilet.
Beside the tower is the pump house. The pump is electric and has a stand-by back up generator in case of a power failure. The tank in the second photo is chlorine, which is added to the water as an anti-bacterial agent.
At the base of the tower is the control room, All of the black wires you see are not for water - they are electrical cables that run up to the antennae atop the tower, which are used for cell phones and radio/television broadcasting. The water volume and pressure is monitored here with the data continually updated and sent back to the main office where it can easily be monitored.
The other half of the equation is what many of us would just as soon ignore. But without it our life would get real messy very quickly. Properly handling the water after we have used it for washing dishes, bathing and toiletry requires much more equipment and effort.
The vents atop each house allow the water we use to utilize gravity and run down through our home and out into the sewer lines buried beneath our streets. This starts another huge matrix - on a three mile island there are about 120 miles of sewer pipes below the ground, many of them two feet in diameter. After the water feeds into these, it gets pumped up to a higher level at small pumping stations - 14 of which dot this island. This allows the sewage to continue using gravity to drain until it reaches the next pumping station.
This pumping station has a vent that allows the gases that build up in the pipes to escape. Before they are exhausted, they are filtered and deodorized so that we citizens don't have to tolerate the smell of sewage.
Now the water arrives at the sewage treatment plant, and the first order of business is to remove all debris from it. This includes sticks and stones and cans and bottles. It is amazing what people can get down their toilet. These things are separated and pumped into large bags in dumpsters - and about one dumpster every two weeks is filled with such foreign objects. It is then further scrubbed to remove grit - sand from the beach can be a big problem as it makes its way here.
Ultimately, the solids and the water in the sewage is separated. This happens through a process of using bacteria to break down the solids and large vats that slowly sluice off the water. The water then is filtered and runs through an ultra-violet radiation treatment that kills off all bacteria, then is pumped out into the river.
There is a lab on site that continually checks the quality of water before it leaves the plant. The solids then are mixed with a polymer that solidifies them.
And then the solids are run by conveyor belt into a dumpster. They go from here to a land-fill. The solids are very rich in nutrients, but there is not enough need for fertilizer locally to go through all the testing that must be done to be sure they are chemical free enough to be used in this manner.
At the moment, two aeration pumps, necessary to get oxygen down into the sludge so the bacteria can work, are being replaced. This raft with the pump is $ 55,000, so at the moment over a hundred thousand in pumps is being installed.
Then there is the equipment necessary to unblock clogged lines, the equipment to install new lines and all of the other things that go into keeping this system running.
At peak season, the pumps pour 1,500,000 gallons of water a day into the water system, and the treatment plant handles right at a million gallons of waste-water. The missing gallons are irrigation, car washes, outdoor showers etc.
Later I spoke with city manager Diane Schleicher, who has quite a wit. She was trying to convince me with a straight face that the sheer weight of the 30,000 plus tourists arriving each year makes the water table rise another four feet. It was a shame she only had a few minutes - she was a lot of fun to chat with. I think she was busy - but maybe she sensed that given a few more minutes I might come up with some convincing tall tales of my own.
The ravens are at their mating season, which is fun to watch if you are around them. The males click and clatter, flit and flutter and generally make a big racket. The females just kinda look on as though they are bored with the whole charade.
And finally, on the beach they have a big sign to make sure you understand where the water level will be at various different categories of hurricanes. "Make your plan now" the sign exhorts. Being somewhere else seems like the only reasonable plan to me.
All have a great Thursday
If you can spare a few bucks to help me with this journey, Click Here. Your support is greatly appreciated. To contact me with any ideas, comments, suggestions or insults, just click Here. Be good to yourself today !!