Field trip! Tours of Wisconsin wastewater treatment plants

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Looking for a unique field trip idea? Seeking an out-of-the-box local adventure? Consider taking an educational journey through the invisible workings of a wastewater treatment plant (WWTP)! Plant tours offer a unique, immersive opportunity to learn about environmental science and sustainability. From uncovering the processes that purify water to understanding the crucial role water reclamation facilities (WRF) play in preserving our ecosystems, a wastewater treatment plant tour will foster a deeper appreciation for our planet’s resources. Here are a few Wisconsin destinations to consider touring that sit within a roughly three-hour drive of Madison.

Jones Island Water Reclamation Facility – Milwaukee, WI

Aerial view of the Jones Island Water Reclamation Facility in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, near downtown and on the coast of Lake Michigan.

The state’s largest water reclamation facility, Jones Island is part of Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District (MMSD) and is on the National Register of Historic Places. MMSD has two reclamation facilities that, combined, clean billions of gallons of wastewater annually for over 1.1 million people. Plant tours of either reclamation facility may be scheduled through MMSD’s contracted operator, Veolia Water Milwaukee, LLC. MMSD also offers Central Laboratory tours to learn about wastewater testing, green infrastructure site tours (like green roofs or shore improvement projects) and tours of their scientific research vessel, the Pelagos. See MMSD tour options.

Nine Springs Wastewater Treatment Plant – Madison, WI

An aerial view of the Nine Springs Wastewater Treatment Plant with downtown Madison, the Wisconsin Capital building and Lake Monona and Lake Mendota in the distance.

Coming in at number two, our District’s Nine Springs WWTP serves about 429,000 people across 24 communities in Dane County. Tours of our plant cover the process for cleaning water, information about the water cycle and the One Water concept and pollution prevention tips. We offer free First Friday tours every first Friday of the month at noon for individuals or small groups; customized tour scheduling is also available. See District tour options.

Sun Prairie Water Pollution Control Facility – Sun Prairie, WI

View of the aeration tanks at the Sun Prairie Water Pollution Control Facility.

Sun Prairie (along with Oregon and Stoughton) is one of the only communities in Dane County that doesn’t send wastewater to our District. In 2022, Sun Prairie experienced a major upgrade to their facility to expand service capacity and accommodate community growth. The facility is unique from our District in that it uses sand filtration after final clarification and before UV disinfection to remove fine particles from wastewater. Their average flow is 3.7 MGD.

NEW Water – Green Bay, WI

NEW Water, the brand of the Green Bay Metropolitan Sewerage District, as seen in a sunset aerial view overlooking the shoreline of Green Bay on Lake Michigan.

NEW Water, the brand of the Green Bay Metropolitan Sewerage District, was established just one year after Madison in 1931. but the facility you see from I-43 in Green Bay was constructed in the 1970s. The facility is beautiful and is set on the shoreline of Lake Michigan with a fantastic view of one of the world’s largest freshwater estuaries, the Bay of Green Bay. NEW Water cleans an average 41 MGD (million gallons per day) for the families, businesses and industries of Northeast Wisconsin.

Fond du Lac Regional WWTP & WRF – Fond du Lac, WI

A schematic drawing of wastewater treatment for the Fond du Lac Regional Wastewater Treatment & Resource Recovery Facility for plant tour education.

The Fond du Lac Regional Wastewater Treatment & Resource Recovery Facility serves 14 communities in the Fond du Lac area, treating approximately 7-8 MGD before the water is returned to Lake Winnebago. The facility is comprised of three major areas – Operations, Maintenance and Laboratory – and visitors to the facility will see how solids and pollutants are removed from wastewater. The facility offers free tours by appointment and conducts school presentations on the treatment process, environmental programs or water quality.

O. Fred Nelson Water Production Plant – Kenosha, WI

Kenosha Water Utility building and entrance sign for taking a plant tour of the O. Fred Nelson Water Production Plan in Kenosha, WI.

The Kenosha Water Utility maintains the sewer system service for Kenosha, Pleasant Prairie, Somers and a portion of Bristol, Wisconsin and treats an average of 21 MGD. In the early 2000s, it became one of the first and largest municipal membrane filtration systems (aka microfiltration) in the country. In 2022, the filtration system was updated and was awarded an Engineering Project of the Year by the American Water Works Association (AWWA) of Wisconsin. Kenosha’s treated water is discharged into Lake Michigan.

There are many, many more WWTPs and WRFs located around the state of Wisconsin than what we’ve included in this list, but they do not all offer public tours. Please visit the website for the Wisconsin municipality of interest for more information. For additional ideas on water education opportunities and other fun reads about wastewater, you can visit the Society & Culture section of our blog.

This article was compiled by Amy Steger. When available, images were sourced from each facility’s social media channels or website.