If you're visiting New York but you've already taken the Sex and the City tour, try something even more poopy: the free monthly tour of the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant, one of 14 similar plants designed to handle both stormwater and the stuff that comes out when you drink too many cosmos because Mr. Big stood you up, or you pissed off Aidan because you're still hung up on Mr. Big, or you just realized Mikhail Baryshnikov is actually quite old.
Newtown Creek handles 310-million gallons of wastewater from about 1.1-million New Yorkers daily, nestling its environmentally conscious industrial space into Brooklyn's Greenpoint neighborhood -- even though environmentally conscious industrial spaces are, like, way more of a "thing" around the Morgan stop.
Once a month, the plant offers tours that not only deliver attendees a New York sewage history lesson, but also stunning views of the east side of Manhattan from the top of the plant's digester eggs.
The day begins with an info session hosted by Jim Pinn, the plant's superintendent of 21 years, and a DEP employee for 40 years. A self-described "product of civil service", the ridiculously charismatic host says that despite the fact that eventually all public servants get promoted to the point of incompetency ("The Peter Principle"), he's not there yet. Phew.
Cram session time: The need for water treatment arose in the late 19th century as America's urban centers began to burst at the seams due to population growth, and because the seams were probably made in low-quality sweatshops. While Mama Nature can purify water on her own in about 20 days, human intervention is required when dealing with that many people's crap (literally), lest the city's waterways become rivers of the stuff. Sampling stations like the one pictured above are used to let scientists know how they're doing, purification-wise. The most popular joke at this station? "You first."
Water treatment deals with three big problems caused by having 8.2-million people living on just over 300 square miles of land: 1) cholera, dysentery, and other diseases known to kill off members of your party along the Oregon Trail; 2) odors; 3) pests like mosquitoes, rodents, and, apparently, plastic alligators.
"Wastewater treatment, the subway, and the Yankees are what make us all happy to live together," says Pinn.
After the talk, you'll take a stroll to the digester eggs -- this one topped with a blue, glass walkway -- which are so hugundous that you can see them from a fifth of a mile away. That's further than it sounds like. Try jogging right now, you'll find out.
The plant also runs special tours on Valentine's Day. Here's Shawn & Courteney on why they decided to hit up this unusual date spot. Shawn: "She hates romance, so I decided to surprise her." Courteney: "The overriding emotion of the last ten years of marriage has been disgust, so where better."
View from the top. After multiple treatment stages, much of the organic material removed from sewage is broken down by the digester eggs into water, carbon dioxide, and methane gas, leaving only a digested sludge. This in turn is dewatered to form a cake-like substance, which is where cake comes from. Also it can be used as a fertilizer.
Meanwhile, the purified water is released back into the East River. Where exactly? Right across from the United Nations. Take that, international diplomacy and cooperation. USA! USA! USA! USA!
Tour Tip #1: Don't stray too far from the digester egg platform the group stops at. Once you go all the way down one of these connector corridor bridges, you get a noxious nosefull of, to use Jim's technical term: "that rotten egg smell".
Tour Tip #2: Stand at the Brooklyn-facing windows, and challenge your travel-mate to a round of "Industrial Loft Apartment Building or Actual Industrial Loft Space".
Well, that's the tour of Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant. You wanna take 'em out, Jim?
"Snuggle with your others tonight, and talk about wastewater treatment. Get the discussion on the table!"