Monday, March 19, 2018

Prep for Panel, I; A Perfect Storm: Climate Change & Sewage

I'm going to be on a nonfiction authors panel in two weeks at the Texas Librarians annual conference--specifically because of my history of toilets book making their list of "nonfiction titles that stimulate reading for pleasure and personal learning".

The moderator sent me a bunch of questions she'll ask, and I'm starting to prep my answers. A meaty one is,
What did you edit OUT of your book?

A: I didn't exactly edit anything out, but I did have to make choices about vocabulary--what to call our "body wastes"
I went with sanitized, scientific words, like "feces" and "urine", rather than slang, like "poop"––partly because when I was a kid I was super sensitive to adults dumbing things down for kids.
I wanted the book to be friendly, yes, but also serious. Also, there are already lot of good books for kids that make the topic fun, such as,
Poop Happened!: A History of the World from the Bottom Up. Mine covered a lot of the same material, but with a different tone and angle--I emphasized public health more.

But looking back, I'm surprised I didn't include anything about the effect of climate change on sewage systems. Maybe I was in denial, living in the middle of the continent, but increasingly frequent and more intense storms and hurricanes are devastating sewage plants, which are often built lowland, near water––and many are well past their "Best Before" date.

"Nearly 31.6 million gallons of raw sewage spilled across southeast Texas in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, pouring into neighboring communities and waterways as dozens of wastewater treatment plants were hit by high winds and flooding, according to state records."
Weeks after the storm hit, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality says 10 sewage treatment plants - including six in the Houston area - are inoperable or destroyed, and more than 40 others were operating as of Monday with problems as minor as broken-down pumps or as serious as structural damage.
 The amount of E. coli an indicator of fecal bacteria in the floodwaters was "stunningly high"––up to 8,000 times the EPA standard (of zero).
A lot of sewage systems were built in the 1950s–1970s and engineers point out they need to be redesigned anyway--they're carrying loads they were never designed for, and they're old and breaking down. 
I hope kids who grow up to be sanitation engineers think about things like moving the plants to high grounds and away from waterways.

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