The Jitney driver brought the tour guide and visitors beside a pool of brown, churning water that looked like a chocolate river.
But this wasn't a tour of Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory. And the brown liquid wasn't chocolate.
“That's nasty," said Joe Pantalone, Vice President of Wastewater at the Atlantic County Utilities Authority. “You don't want to go swimming in that."
As part of ACUA's 25th annual Earth Day festival, residents got an up close look at the ACUA wastewater facility in Atlantic City and learned how it works. They wore hardhats and walked under the 380-foot-tall wind turbines that produce 7.5 megawatts of electricity.
And back at the ACUA Haneman Environmental Park, a few thousand attendees toured dozens of exhibits that featured everything from free plants to pony rides.
“I thought it was interesting to see how much wastewater goes out into the ocean each day," said Ashley Ricciardi, 32, of Egg Harbor Township, who took her two children to the wastewater tour.
She and others learned from Pantalone that about 27-30 million gallons of wastewater gets pumped into the ocean each day from the facility after contaminants are removed and the water is disinfected.
“By the time it leaves, it's clean," Pantalone said, who said the facility hopes to eventually recycle that water instead of putting it in the ocean.
Another popular item on the long list activities, demonstrations and workshops was the plant giveaway by Caesars Entertainment. The company gave away herbs, vegetables and flowers as part of its “Code Green" environmental sustainability initiative. The festival ran from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., but by 1 p.m. most of the plants were gone.
The event also featured a “Colors of the Earth Fun Run" kickoff at 8:30 a.m. and a ceremonial tire pounding by Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian of the Atlantic County Earthship Education center near the wastewater facility.
The structure was designed by Earthship360, a leader in sustainable design, after environmentalist and photographer Donna Connor brought the idea to the ACUA. She got the idea after hearing the founder of Earthship360 speak at a sustainable conference at the Omega Institute in New York.
The Earthship Education center is Connor’s certification project for the Environmental Stewards Class at Rutgers University.
The sustainable structure's foundation will be made of tires — which holds the building's temperature — and uses cans, bottles and other recycled material for walls. Jonah Reynolds, an architect for Earthship360, said the education center will be powered solar and wind energy. Plants in the living space will grow food while processing the wastewater.
“It's totally off the grid," Reynolds said of the building. “No utility bill."
Reynolds said the education center, which undergoes serious construction in a month, will hold about 50 people and offer students the chance to study sustainable technology.
The Atlantic County Earthship Education Center demonstrates the principles of sustainability by inspiring visitors to enhance their own quality of life while lessening the impact of human activity on the planet. Through the embodiment of the six Earthship tenets, the education center invites the public to embrace this new path to a cleaner, more resilient, and sustainable future.