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At San Diego's Sewage in Your Face! Web site, kids can send their friends electronic cards with fun facts about wastewater and sewers. Photo: San Diego MWWD
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Kids are fascinated by gross things; they also dig learning how stuff works. Combining the two, San Diego created an ingenious program to teach youngsters all about the gross and groovy world of sewers.

The city's Metropolitan Waste-water Department (MWWD) launched the Web-based Sewage in Your Face! program in February 2005 to help teachers explain what happens to the water that's flushed out of their houses every day.

“We'd get calls from teachers who wanted to tour our wastewater treatment plant but didn't have any way of getting there,” says Heather Lade, MWWD's senior public information officer. After brainstorming, Lade, graphics designer Ruben Camerino, and graphics intern Matt Olsen created a Virtual Science Classroom that lets kids explore a sewer's inner workings—without getting their Keds dirty.

Sewage in Your Face! (www.sandiego.gov/mwwd/kids) is a fun, silly, crude tour of the city's sewers. It engages pint-size visitors with games, videos, and sewage-themed recipes (see below). Kids can listen to sewage sounds, take a virtual tour of the Point Loma Wastewater Treatment Plant, or send icky electronic postcards to their pals. The Ain't So Stinky Sewer Games section has a crossword puzzle that kids solve using “dirty” words. Teachers also can treat their students to a real-world tour or at-school presentation, during which they learn the importance of keeping oil, grease, and other undesirables out of the mix. These lessons, Lade believes, reach far beyond the classroom.

“If you educate a child, very often you educate the parents,” she says.

The MMWD gets the word out by e-mailing elementary and middle-school science teachers. So far, response has been wildly positive. After watching a step-by-step, no-holds-barred look at sewage treatment in the interactive video “Adventures in Waste-water: The Treatment of #2,” young San Diegan Ryan Yoder said, “I want to go down the sewer again!”

Yucky, huh? And that's exactly the point.

Sludge cakes

Ingredients:

8-ounce package cream cheese, softened

½ cup chocolate syrup

? cup cocoa powder

1 package chocolate sandwich cookies

Non-stick cooking spray

Directions:

Lightly grease a muffin pan with non-stick cooking spray. Place the chocolate sandwich cookies inside a gallon-size resealable bag, then use the backside of a spoon to smash the cookies into small chunks. Pour the crushed cookies into a large bowl and use your clean hands to crumble them into a dirt-like texture. In another large bowl, beat the cream cheese and cocoa powder until light and fluffy, then stir in the chocolate syrup. Gradually add the cookies to the cream-cheese mixture and fold together until all cookie pieces are coated. Firmly pack the muffin tins to the rim with the cookie mixture. Turn the pan over and shake gently to remove the sludge cakes. Serves 12.

Editors'/bakers' note: These sludge cakes were shared at our offices. All of them were gone within the hour.