Most people don’t give a second thought to the water that spirals down the drains at the University of Oregon.
But the city of Eugene pays attention, and what the city found it enough to applaud the UO for its wastewater practices in 2018, meeting all local, state and federal requirements in repeated testing.
It’s no small feat, considering the UO runs some 364,000 gallons into the city’s wastewater treatment plant every day from thousands of drains across campus.
“This recognition is significant not only because it's challenging but because it confirms that our processes are capable of the achievement,” UO Environmental Health and Safety Director Steve Stuckmeyer said. “Fortunately, the university has a long history of taking its obligations seriously and working proactively with the city to protect the metropolitan treatment system.”
The city considers the UO a specially permitted significant industrial user of water, not just because of volume passed through but also for the university’s steam and electric power generation and the hazardous chemicals used in many laboratory, shop, studio and maintenance operations. The UO is responsible for meeting standards to keep wastewater clear of hazardous substances that could harm the city’s treatment system, which discharges into the Willamette River.
The UO doesn’t have any treatment process for the water coming out of campus; it goes straight to the region's wastewater treatment plant. So the key to the UO’s success is all about teaching the best practices to the biggest and highest-risk users, and creating a campus culture that respects the importance of keeping harmful stuff out of the drains.
“Our team provides trainings, guidance, support, waste removal services and reminders,” said Jeremy Chambers, the UO’s compliance and environmental manager. “But the biggest impact is by the people out in our labs and buildings buying in and doing the right thing.”
Chambers and the other members of Stuckmeyer’s Environmental Health and Safety group label drains to warn against hazardous material discharge, pick up and safely dispose of hazardous substances, inspect campus locations to make sure best practices are used, and then make sure city staff have the access and information they need to test regularly and allow for any correction.
In 2018, that record was as clear as spring water.