Everyday Impact: The Friendly Faces of Wastewater and Liquid Courage

Gene Freel

Where would we be without the vital waters of waste and imbibement.

I’m talking toilet water, and the best liquids of all – of the courage variety. Who would have ever thought that alcohol and toilet water could go hand in hand? Well, here at The Advocate, we dare never doubt any pairings, no matter how unorthodox. Which is why we’ve reserved this space in honor of the fine people who spend their days providing for our needs and comforts in the Corvallis community. 

Now, next time you break the seal, think of these people and everyone else out there making your life comfortable, secure, and hashtag blessed.

Gene Freel and Lori Reed, Corvallis Wastewater Reclamation Plant
Every toilet flush is the start of an epic wastewater journey. From your porcelain bowl, the water travels miles of underground piping to the Corvallis wastewater treatment plant on NW Second St. This facility, composed of at least a dozen large interconnected rectangular and circular structures, intakes and processes more than 24 million gallons of water a day – or 17,000 gallons a minute – ultimately releasing the clean water into the Willamette River across the street. 

I arrived at the plant on a rainy day, and Wastewater Operator Gene Freel was dressed for the elements. “Oh, we’re going outside,” he said. 

First, though, we stopped in front of a computer inside. Green and yellow graphics whirred on a blue and gray screen, a live model of the physical plant we would soon walk through. Freel explained that the plant operates 24/7. “Nobody ever stops going to the restroom,” he said. Human operators are on site every day, but overnight, they rely on alerts from the complex monitoring system to tell them when the water flow rate increases and changes need to be made at the plant.  

The Corvallis plant uses a combination of gravitational, mechanical, and biological processes to clean wastewater. First, a screen removes trash. “We’ve seen things: hard hats, buckets, two-by-fours, croquet balls, bed sheets, all kinds,” Freel said. 

Next, water is pumped into a pool where gravity takes action: solids that settle at the bottom and oils to float to the top are removed, leaving water with only suspended or dissolved waste. This water is sprayed over eight feet of river rock populated with countless hungry algae, bacteria, and other small life forms that feast on this remaining waste. Then the water travels to a second biological processing step, where air is injected in the water to help other organisms eat. Finally, chlorine is added to the water to kill any remaining disease-causing organisms, and, after the chlorine is removed, the now-clean water is ready to enter the Willamette. 

Freel, who has been working at the plant for 21 years, seemed to know every pipe and pathway in this place, and he explained about the processes with precision, enthusiasm, and reverence. Wastewater Operations Supervisor Lori Reed, who has been at Corvallis for the last four months of her 20-year industry career, says she got into wastewater work because she loves the environment and wanted to find a way to make a direct impact.

“When I tell people about my job, they think, ‘Oh, you must just stand there and push a button,’” Reed said. “No. We’re biologists, we’re chemists, pathologists, we’re mechanics.” 

Today, we recognize the everyday impact of the work of people like Reed and Freel, who make sure our city’s sewage doesn’t back up, and that only clean water makes it from our toilets to the Willamette. Thanks for taking our water on that journey. 

Tim Armstrong

Tim Armstrong, CrowBar
Nestled in the back alley behind American Dream Pizza downtown, CrowBar offers revolutionary libations, but the best part is the friendly face of bartender Tim Armstrong. Behind the bar, Armstrong gives out as many drinks as he does handshakes, high-fives, and hugs to his patrons. 

“The best part of my job is I get to throw a party every night,” he said.

Armstrong has developed quite a following in Corvallis after working at CrowBar for seven years. The Ithaca, New York native came to Corvallis for school without knowing anyone west of the Mississippi River, but now – through his genuine approach to his craft – he keeps customers’ glasses full, providing more comfort than any amount of alcohol.