Grubbs Environmental Center

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By Audrey Harman | Photos by Delia Engstrom

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If you’ve ever wondered where your discarded water goes once it disappears down the drain, you don’t have to venture too far to find out. Located off of Rippon Blvd. in Woodbridge, the Grubbs Environmental Center is housed on the campus of the Prince William County Service Authority’s award-winning H.L. Mooney Advanced Water Reclamation Facility (AWRF). As you pass through the security checkpoint to enter the campus, the Grubbs Environmental Center is not hard to miss with its shiny windows and multi-textured exterior, and it’s easy to tell that it is home to important activities.

The center contains a state-of-the-art 6,200-square-foot laboratory and an educational and interactive exhibit. The lab portion of the building is sleek and modern—everything you’d expect from the exterior. As you pass through the door at one end, you can peer into various laboratory rooms through large glass windows and watch the technicians perform their magic. Within the same hallway is a special area where PWC residents can bring their water samples, well users can bring theirs, and other non-resident customers can also make drop offs. The Water Quality Laboratory offers testing services for PWCSA customers and noncustomers as well as other entities. (There is a special locked refrigerated water receiving area accessible 24-7.)

Not only does the new center provide a roomier, more modernized laboratory, the building was also constructed with green technology and is Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified by the U.S. Green Building Council. Named after Durward E. Grubbs, Jr., a founding member of the Service Authority’s Board of Directors, the building gives the lab technicians the upgraded space they need to service the growing customer base in the area and to provide additional commercial lab services to other clients. (The lab made about $130,000 last fiscal year in services offered to clients.)

Anything and everything flushed down local drains is cleaned, tested, and expelled right on the same campus. “The former laboratory space did not meet the needs of the growing population in Prince William County and the complexity of our treatment system,” said Service Authority General Manager Dean Dickey. “We have to look out for the health, safety and welfare of our customers and make sure we can do that in a highly responsive way.”

He also spoke about how much customer service matters, so when moving from the old laboratory to the new one, Laboratory Supervisor Mary Eure said, “Moving a lab is difficult, and we made sure the clients never saw a delay.”

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The nine rooms within the laboratory analyze inorganic microbiology, semi volatiles, volatiles and metals. The staff performs approximately 5,000 tests per month for compliance and process control. The lab is certified by the Virginia Environmental Laboratory Accreditation Program as a Certified Chapter 46 Commercial Laboratory and is also commercially certified through the Safe Drinking Water Program.

Visible from the lobby of the building is the brightly colored interactive exhibit. In this area, you can test your knowledge of the water treatment process and learn about what goes on at the Mooney AWRF campus. Board Chairman Joyce Eagles said of Grubbs, the building’s namesake, “He really wanted to involve the community and educate the youth of this community as much as possible. He saw this center as a good vehicle to do that.”

The exhibit is informative, gets everyone involved, and also showcases actual staff and portions of the campus pictured throughout. The importance of this center doesn’t just affect local residents, but anyone connected to the Chesapeake Bay Watershed and the wildlife that depends on the water. The interactive exhibit within the new building depicts how the Mooney AWRF discharges cleaned wastewater into the Neabsco Creek, a tributary of the Potomac River. When the clean wastewater is released, “Fish swarm at the base of the steps where oxygen is applied to the water,” said Kipp Hanley, a copywriter with the Service Authority. Not only is the wastewater tested as safely as possible, but it is also obvious to see that even the wildlife approves.

This exhibit helps both kids and adults learn the impact of their actions. You can learn about the water treatment process, where your water comes from, what’s underground, and what exactly you should and shouldn’t wash down your drains.

PWLIVING March 2016 pwsa.deliaengstrom (1 of 5)Through the educational aspect of this center, Marlo Thomas Watson, community relations manager, said people can learn how their behavior impacts the entire cycle. Eure spoke of how it is important to be conscious of your impact and to be aware of how it affects not only your plumbing, but this facility as well. Even the slightest bit of new information and perspective can help residents adjust their way of living to positively affect the whole.

Though the tasks the lab technicians perform may involve complex procedures and terms, the exhibit presents information about what the facility does in terms and visuals everyone can understand. Taking an hour to tour the lab and walk through the exhibit can help the average person come home better informed and more conscious of what they wash down the drain. Our future actions are directly affected by what we know about our own impact, and we can all take steps towards making Prince William County a healthier and more sustainable place to live. To learn more about the water cleansing process and how you can make a positive impact, visit the Grubbs Environmental Center Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-noon. You can view more information or sign up for tours at pwcsa.org.

Audrey Harman (aharman@princewilliamliving.com) has been writing for PWL since 2011. She has a B.A. in English and Spanish from Hollins University and an M.A. in publications design from the University of Baltimore. She works as an instructional designer by day and has vowed to curtail her garbage disposal use after researching this article.

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