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Earth Day field trip

Hartselle Junior High School’s 200-plus sixth graders received a hands-on lesson in science as participants in a delayed Earth Day field trip on May 2 thanks to a cooperative effort involving Hartselle Beautification Association, Hartselle Utilities, Water Works and the Morgan County Wetlands Mitigation Bank.

The students wore white T-shirts with black “Earth Day” lettering, compliments of Hartselle Utilities and TVA. They were transported by school buses, and in small groups rotated from one station to another in 30-minute increments throughout the day.

At E.A.R.T.H. Park, they learned how the city’s wastewater treatment plant works to keep the community environmentally safe and how wetlands in the park are used to remove pollutants from runoff rainwater before it enters Shorts Branch.

HU Wastewater Treatment Plant operators Glenn Byrum, chief, and Slade Sparkman exhibited samples of untreated and treated wastewater and demonstrated how a polymer is used to separate the solid matter from water. They also used a monitor and telescope to show the activity of microorganisms in the wastewater.

“When the treatment process is completed, the water is released into a tributary of Flint Creek meeting all requirements of the Alabama Department of Environmental Services,” Byrum pointed out. “The solid matter is removed by a huge centrifuge and hauled to the Morgan County Landfill for disposal.”

“Would you drink the water after it has been treated?” one of the students asked.

After hesitating for a moment, Byrum answered, “I’d prefer it to be treated a couple more times.”

Billy McAbee, a naturalist and outdoorsman, talked to the students about E.A.R.T.H. Park and the role it is playing as a community asset.

He explained that water from Shorts Branch works its way through three wetland ponds, each one lower than the other, and re-enters the branch minus 87 percent of its pollutants. The root systems of aquatic plants absorb most of the pollutants.

He also pointed out that rock-filled gabion baskets are used to prevent erosion on a high bank next to Hickory Street and native Gambusia fish help control mosquitoes in the branch.

“I’m stress-free because I’m in contact with nature every day,” McAbee told the students. “If you’re stressed and want to get rid of it, my suggestion is to go outside and pull some weeds and smell the flowers.”

Students were introduced to a variety of energy and natural resource conservation measures at Water Works, a privately-owned business that is operating at the old Hartselle water treatment location at Highway 31 and Flint Creek.

Executive director Mike Roden introduced students to a bee apiary inside the building as well as a man-made wetland, stocked with native fish and turtles, where a deep well once stood.

Sixth grade science teachers Cindy Averitt and Debbie Smith conducted stations dealing with rainwater harvesting and storm water management.

Averitt pointed out that Water Works collects rainwater from the roofs of its buildings as a water conservation practice. The stored water is used to irrigate plants on the property.

Smith described a large front parking lot, covered with brick pavers, as a surface that absorbs rainwater, preventing it from flowing into Flint Creek. The lot was dug to a depth of four feet and back-filled with layers of materials capable of absorbing water and keeping it underground.

At the wetlands mitigation bank, three learning stations were set up for the students.

Sharon Fisher, 4-H agent assistant, demonstrated electric, wind and solar energy applications; Joe Wheeler EMC Forester David Sims talked about native trees on the wetlands; and Summer Stidham gave a tour of the wetlands and talked about its use as a habitat for native wildlife.

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