Where does your wastewater go?

It’s not a question everyone thinks to ask (I certainly never cared to), but it’s an absolutely critical question. 

Why am I asking you this?

Well, as an environmental science student, I’ve taken a planning class or two, which was really the first time I ever considered the question.

As someone from a biggish city, the answer is to a wastewater treatment facility, with huge treatment pools and lots of chemicals and dozens of employees.

But what if the nearest town to you has less than 100 people?

Then you may have a septic system, a common way of managing wastewater.

However, here at Capulin, we’re ambitious.  Our wastewater is sent to a first treatment pool, where phytoplankton and other natural processes start to treat the water.  It’s then sent to a second pool where it is treated with chlorine.  Now, to be clear, I wouldn’t drink this water.  It looks gross.  But, it can be used, so we do.  We use it to water our outdoor growing area, where we’ve been working on growing grasses to plant to mitigate erosion on the loose soil of the volcano. 

Why am I telling you this?

Because, when one of my seasonal coworkers came into the office last week and said, “Hey guys, did you know there are fish in the sewage lagoon?” I was very, very surprised, but also intrigued.  I asked her if they were sunfish, those small fish you catch with your fishing pole from the dollar store when you were a kid, which are warmwater fish tolerant to pollution.  She told me no, they weren’t really round, they were more long.  Now I’m really intrigued.  So I head out to the outdoor growing area and am, once again, very surprised.  I saw these.

Dozens of them. This is a bad photo taken a couple of days later, but you may be able to make out a vaguely lizard-shaped creature in the murkiness.  For a better idea of what I thought I was seeing, Google axolotl.  But there was also another one that looked different from the rest.  Probably about 10 inches long and mottled black and yellow.  It looked like a tiger salamander, but I was pretty sure those only lived out east.  Plus, what is a non-toad amphibian doing in such a dry area?

Well I was wrong.  Apparently tiger salamanders have a few different subspecies and live all over North America.  Apparently their larval stage look a lot like axolotl.  And apparently there are probably hundreds of them inhabiting the two sewage lagoons at Capuilin Volcano National Monument. 

I tried hard to get a good photo of an adult one swimming up to the surface to snatch a bug, for you, dear reader.  But mostly I got some decent shots of them retreating into the depths, plus one not-so-decent shot of one retreating while one surfaced. 

Anyways, here’s some information you didn’t know you needed to know about Ambystoma tigrinum var. mavortium, the barred tiger salamander of Capulin, New Mexico, courtesy of

They reproduce in the early spring or late winter after returning to their natal pools (very cool).   The eggs take 2.5-7 weeks to hatch.   Once they reach their adult stage after 2.5 months, they will burrow or use other creatures’ abandoned burrows (there are tons of those around here) as their home.  Tiger salamanders live primarily on land across the United States, in habitats ranging from wetlands or marshes to grasslands.  An adult may be up to 14 inches long, but are more commonly somewhere between six and ten, way bigger than the small ones I’m used to seeing in Ohio.  They may stay in their aquatic larval stage for their entire lives.  The craziest thing, to me, is that they can live for up to 25 years in captivity and 16 in the wild!  

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