Thursday, March 28, 2013

When they say "non-potable", they mean it.

We started off the day at the water treatment plant where they filter all the wastewater coming out of Las Vegas. This enormous operation filters about 70 billion gallons of water per day! Below you can see us looking down at the aeration stage of the process, where "activated sludge" is bubbled to expose the water to air.

Our tour guide was a chemist who had worked at the plant for decades, and gave us very detailed and fascinating explanations of the entire process, and also described their plans for a new, more biologically-based process they may be transitioning to in upcoming years.

I was entertained by their ever-present warning signs against drinking the water:

After this huge plant, we moved on to the water treatment plant for Henderson, a smaller city neighboring Las Vegas. The overseer of quality-control for the plant showed us around this plant. Although he seemed rather surprised that we wanted a tour, and kept saying there "wasn't much to see", there was a LOT to see! We asked him lots of questions, including what the average flow was for a plant of this size, what their return rate was, and what they did with their solid waste.

This was more what I expected a water treatment plant to be like: lots of loud noises, big pipes, nobs and dials. Rin got ahold of the radio equipment and took sound samples of anything that buzzed, hummed or bubbled throughout the entire plant.

After the second water treatment plant we trekked to Moapa Valley, where a large Silica sand mine was waiting for us. We threw on some hard hats and, after a brief talk on the history of the mine and its main market, we were given a driving tour of the huge pit. Very fine, silica-infused sand is basically scooped off the surface here, and shipped to various companies for glass-making and other such production.

Processing here was pretty simple. We asked our guide if there were any byproducts of mining sand, and he just looked at us and responded frankly, "No." The sand is run through a series of conveyer belts, such as the one pictured above trailing off to the right, in order to get the right particle size. Then the sand is dropped off at the top of their tailings piles as shown below:

It was so straightforward, yet so big and majestic! Have I used that word in this blog yet? I probably have. Nevertheless, it was very impressive. Then we drove out of Nevada, through Arizona for a little while, and into Utah, where we are staying the night at a pretty classy hotel before we head off to the incredible sights of Zion National Park tomorrow. It's going to be epic, I can feel it.
Hasta luego!


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