Busted Axle Road
Chapter 68

Copyright© 1993, 2001, 2010

"What's on your mind, Chief?" Musgrave asked Kutzley.

"Well, I hope I'm not taking you away from anything," Don asked. "With this rain, I know you've got concerns about the plant."

"It'll hold for a while," Jack replied. "The rain's supposed to let up this afternoon, and it's been dry, so we may not overflow."

"Well, good," Don said. "This probably won't take long." He leaned back in his chair, and put his hands behind his head. "I've been thinking about this whole snake and sewer thing since we met with that Sanford girl last week."

"It does seem like too good an answer, just to come out of the bathtub drain, so to speak," Jack agreed.

"That's it in a nutshell," Kutzley said. "I know that Blackbarn and the Fish and Wildlife Service can tie the EPA up for a while, but there's a great big loophole there, and sooner or later someone's bound to see it. I know it didn't take me long."

Musgrave shook his head. "You got me on that one, chief."

"Damn, it's so simple. What if the EPA comes along and says, 'OK, you got snakes, so what? We're still going to fine you if the plant overloads.'"

"You mean, we don't care where it comes from, all we're concerned is the output. How you solve it is your problem?"

Kutzley nodded. "That's it, exactly. They can say, don't harm the snake, don't overflow the plant, you solve it or we'll fine you. How the hell do we solve it?"

The waste water treatment plant manager cradled his chin in his hand. "That's a tough one, for an off the top of the head answer."

"Well, we gotta be thinking about it.

Musgrave shrugged. "Well, we can work on the system a little, maybe cut inflow by ten or twenty percent. Do it quietly, and maybe nobody will notice. That won't solve the problem, but it will help."

"It might, and it might not. Assume that we're going to have to file an environmental impact statement every time we do anything to the system."

"Could it get that bad?"

"Yes, it could. That Sanford girl was all sweetness and light last week, but for the moment, she's on our side. I can tell you this much about the Defenders of Gaea. They're going to be on our side just as long as their interests and ours coincide. Their interest is the snake, and they have a real talent at making a pain in the ass of themselves. I asked around."

"She seemed real helpful."

"She did, indeed. She gave us a straw to grasp at. But, you ever hear of the snail darter?"

"That was ten years ago," Musgrave said, "But Carter really looked like an idiot on that."

"Wasn't real difficult for him," Don said. "I can give lectures on that subject, but that's beside the point. Assume we can't touch the system. How do we keep the plant in compliance?"

"Well, just talking, the easiest answer is to build a bigger plant," Musgrave said. "Of course, there's a whole list of drawbacks to that."

"Yeah, the money."

"It wouldn't be cheap," Musgrave said. At today's market, we've got maybe a five or six million dollar plant right there. We'd have to triple the flow capacity, but it's not like we'd need three of what we've got; there's some things that we wouldn't have to duplicate, but at a guess, you're still looking at eight to ten million."

"After the way people went up over a five million dollar system, I don't want to think about what would happen if we told them the alternative was a ten million dollar plant."

"The money isn't the only problem," the plant manager went on. "You get a problem with keeping the process going with that big a fluctuation in flow. It's all a biological process after all, and it changes at biological rates. You take that big a plant, and you run it at a low rate, and all of a sudden you get a big slug of water, and you're out of compliance, even if you've got the theoretical capacity. That's really a more serious problem than the money."

"That doesn't solve anything."

"Yeah, in that respect, we're better off with our current plant," Musgrave said. "The problem is controlling the inflow. I played around with an idea on that, one time. I didn't get very far with it, because there are a lot of problems. None of them are impossible, at least technically, but it might be a solution."

"What?"

"A retention pond. When the flow gets so big we can't handle it, we pump it off to the pond. When the inflow dies out, we take the pond back down and process it. Build the pond big enough, and we stay in compliance, unless we get to where we need an ark."

"Sounds easy enough," Kutzley said, brightening.

"It sounds easy enough," Musgrave agreed. "But, when you start looking at it, there are a lot of problems."

"Name a few."

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