Nature is returned to nature courtesy of the littlest environmentalists


Stan Sircello, manager of the South Central Water Treatment Plant in Viera, drops sludge-eating organisms in water to determine their rate of multiplication, determined by a formula of algebra and calculus.

Stan Sircello’s grandfather first introduced him to the work he loves, before he knew it as work. The gentle soul of Narragansett tribe heritage would scold Sircello as a boy for throwing rocks into a stream. 

“If you kept that up, you’d fill up the stream. Leave nature to itself,” he’d tell him.

“He taught me to grow organic food long before the hippies came along,” Sircello said with his trademark laid-back smile.

These environmentalist roots grew Sircello into the scientist he is today as manager of the South Central Wastewater Treatment Plant in Viera. 

He has a bachelor of science degree in Natural Resources Management from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, and an associate of arts degree and certification in Horticulture from Orange Coast College, Costa Mesa. To run the plant, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection requires him to maintain a Class A Wastewater Treatment Plant Operator license. 

He and his team are working to double the capacity to treat wastewater in the Viera/Suntree area from 5.5 million gallons per day to more than 10 million gallons to accommodate new residential growth in west Viera. Plant expansion will begin in December and take three years.

The expansion is one of three goals the 58 “and a half”-year-old wants to accomplish before he retires at age 62, so he literally is on the clock while he is on the clock. In addition to the plant’s expansion, he also wants to make sure good staff is in place to operate it, and third, he wants to put in place good, clearly documented procedures for everything, including an advanced treatment process of his own design, but more on that later.

How does what we wash and flush down drains come back to us crystal clean enough to drink, if anyone had the nerve?

Monsters are our friends

First of all, Sircello doesn’t work alone, but with billions of helpers, each with its own name and look worthy of a star turn in a 1950s horror flick if it somehow grew beyond what could be observed under a microscope.

Sircello uses nature to return itself to itself. Grandfather would be proud.

Number one, number two, soap, anything that goes down the garbage disposal, and everything in between, they count it all delicious. Between them, there is nothing that the bacterial cast of characters won’t eat.

Microorganisms are added according to a formula of algebra and calculus to make sure they don’t overrun a city, because they divide asexually into two, and each does the same again, again and again until there are plenty on the job. 

Brown liquid flows through channels to give Mother Nature time to work her magic. The floating masses are not what visitors guess them to be, but rather they are masses of filamental bacteria that like to stack as they divide.

Eventually, the organisms are deemed done ― for now. Their liquid surroundings are piped into round clarification vats and slowly circulated so the clear filtered water spills outward and the organisms are gently collected inward.

Parting ways, the water continues its clarification process while the well-fed organisms are delivered to compression belts to squeeze out excess water via 350 pounds per square inch of force. Metal helix screws convey the sludge solids to a truck.

An encore career for the littlest environmentalists

These viable creatures are then transported to landfills where they are layered between stacks of garbage to continue their feast, moving on from our liquid waste to break down and reduce the volume of our solid waste.

The sewage removed, it is only now that the wastewater encounters its first caustic chemical and nonorganic process, very strong chlorine bleach to kill any remaining beasties. It is a similar process to that applied to water pulled from Lake Washington a few miles south and turned into drinking water. The two finished products are barely discernible under a microscope, the “reclaimed” water nearly as sterile.

The difference is that the Viera plant’s water is not deemed potable, or fit for human consumption, so most of it is piped out for use as irrigation in medians, golf courses, private communities and marked accordingly. The remainder is piped into the adjacent 200-acre Ritch Grissom Memorial Viera Wetlands to the west to get a final polish before making its way to underground water supplies and ultimately the St. Johns River, a major source for drinking water.

“I have the best world of both degrees,” Sircello said. “I use my horticulture degree assessing the nutrient uptake and condition of the plants in the constructed wetlands. I use my environmental management degree to supply the public with safe, reclaimed water. That requires a lot of ‘fun with science.’ ”

While this organic treatment process is used elsewhere across Brevard’s five other wastewater treatment plants, one exciting process all Sircello’s own is newly in use and will spread to other sites.

Currently, wastewater from restaurant kitchens ― collected separately from sewage in “grease traps” that must be tapped and trucked to the treatment plant ― costs $55 per 1,000 gallons to treat because it must be jacked up with caustic lime calcium hydroxide to kill organisms, and is typically spread on ranch lands not used directly to produce food for human consumption.

Ahead of the curve

The Department of Environmental Protection requires this process to stop by 2016, and Sircello’s process, which he started experimenting with in 2005, has already been successfully used at the plant for two years.

The cost: $25 per ton, the dried solids having been removed from the water. Considering that water weighs 8.34 pounds a gallon, the cost is not simply a quarter of what it was; the price reduction is astounding.

These goals in sight, Sircello is setting his eye on what to do after retirement. An accomplished classical as well as jazz pianist, he can be found practicing a symphony he is sketching on Sunday afternoons where his Via Tuscany neighbors in Viera beg him to open his windows and share.

He’ll get back to training horses ― a skill that won him many an acting job in his former California home “whenever they wanted someone who looked like an Indian and could also ride a horse.”

A pilot, Sircello also wants to travel the world and stays young in preparation for these carefree days doing lots of yoga.

In the meantime, his job is his vocation. He shares his passion for letting nature return itself to nature with tours of Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, college students, science fair winners and anyone in between, the younger the better, the older the better.

“I feel like a kid in a candy store,” Sircello said, the warm grin never far from his face. “I get to come do what I love every day.”

For more information or to schedule or join a tour, call 321-255-4328. The plant is at 10001 N. Wickham Rd. in Viera.