Chinese professionals specializing in water resources traveled to Penn State on Thursday to learn from a film documenting the issues facing America's sewer system.
The film, titled "Liquid Assets," was produced by Penn State public broadcasting station WPSU and tells the story of environmental damage caused by America's crumbling sewers.
In its first year, the film has aired more than 800 times on 94 percent of the nation's public broadcasting stations, said Elaine Brzycki, manager of grants and contract relations for the film.
The film shows how poor sewer systems limit economic growth in small towns, cause health problems for the public and even threaten the security of America's largest cities. Co-director Stephanie Ayanian said sewers seem like an odd topic for a documentary, but she thinks the state of America's waterworks is an urgent problem that affects communities across the country.
"When I first started working on the project, I was like, 'Are we really going to be able to make this exciting?' " Ayanian said. "But by telling personal stories, we hoped that people would realize the critical importance of that infrastructure."
The visiting Chinese professionals, who specialize in environmental work and civil engineering, were intrigued by the film and saw which pitfalls to avoid as China rapidly builds new bridges, roads and sewers.
Ying Zhou, project officer with the China-based Society of Entrepreneurs and Ecology, said China may be able to learn from the problems America is currently facing with its infrastructure.
"I think China is making investments over time to keep up its infrastructure," she said.
But, Ayanian said, the United States has fallen behind in funding infrastructure, which has left the country's sewer system outdated. She cited the sewer lines under Atherton Road in State College, which PennDOT engineers fear may be danger of collapsing, as one local problem with sewers.
Brzycki said she hopes "Liquid Assets" will spark discussion in communities across the country about the need for investment in vital infrastructure.
"It's a national problem but needs local discussion," she said.