Special Reports

Prospectors flush out treasure in Kennewick

It seems working in the sewer department turns up regular bonuses. But workers had to call the police a few days after the ponds were drained in 1976....

Published on Feb. 12, 1976

By Dave Eshleman, Herald staff writer

Kennewick sewer workers say people are flush nowadays.

Last year they collected $30 in coins people flushed down their toilets.

The city bought a special machine last year to get debris out of sewer pipes. Since then false teeth, rings, marbles, bags of marijuana and hundreds of toys have been collected by the plant operator Walt Johnson and four others.

"Kids love to flush things down the toilet," said Johnson. "That explains why we get all the coins and toys. But sets of false teeth are a little harder to explain.

"I think people lose them when they come home drunk and throw up into the toilet. Sometimes their teeth fall out, too."

Johnson said the five sewer employees split up anything they find. "It's an agreement we made that the money belongs to all of us. We plan to guy a new coffee pot with it," Johnson said.

But all of the men are itching to find the $1,200 diamond ring a woman accidentally flushed down the toilet last year. The whole staff was out looking for it without success, Johnson said.

"It's still out there, somewhere," said sewer employee David Asbell, with the dreamy look of a prospector talking about the Lost Dutchman mine.

But one thing the employees don't share is the marijuana people often flush down toilets when they're afraid to be caught with it. When they find it, they call the police.

But marijuana seeds often make it into the sewer plants settling ponds, Johnson said.

When the ponds were drained last summer, a whole forest of the saw-toothed plants sprouted.

One of the workers recognized the plants and alerted police, who quickly cut the bushes down and carted them off in a patrol car to be burned.

"That stuff filled up a whole police car," Johnson remembered.

"They told me it was worth about $1500."