HARRINGTON, Wash. — When a fire breaks out, Fire Chief Scott McGowan is on the call. He’s on the spot when a sewer line breaks and somebody has to fix it. He is in charge of the drinking water plant that serves the 420 people in the small Eastern Washington town.
And he doubles as the wastewater treatment operator, not as glamorous as being fire chief, but it’s part of his job description.
McGowan’s backup at the wastewater plant? Until the city can hire another worker, that would be Mayor Paul Gilliland. He already handles most of the wastewater plant’s paperwork and is studying to earn an operator certification so he can be a full-service mayor.
Harrington is just one of many communities across the Pacific Northwest that is operating on a tight budget and trying not to violate it’s wastewater pollution permit.
One of the main goals of the 1972 Clean Water Act was to stop “point-source pollution.” That’s the sewage and industrial waste pumped out of pipes and into the nation’s waterways.
To help communities build and upgrade wastewater collection and treatment systems in the years after the Clean Water Act’s passage, the federal government handed out billions of dollars in grants. But most of those federal grants are gone, replaced by loans. At the same time, those federally subsidized municipal wastewater systems have aged.
When wastewater treatment plants fail, the environment takes the hit, and so do the people who want to use public waters for drinking water, food or recreation.