If your wastewater treatment plant is following the rules of what it can discharge into your local river, chances are there’s a good operator behind the controls.
And that’s important, because the river receiving the discharge could be the same one that’s supplying the water that’s treated and sent to your faucet.
I’ve found in visiting these plants and providing training, that a qualified operator can make a world of difference in the performance of a facility. In fact, I’d say that of the small treatment plants that are violating their permits, three quarters could be brought into compliance with better-trained operators.
It’s one thing to be certified to run a wastewater treatment plant. It’s another to actually run it efficiently. Operators need to know a good mix of biology, chemistry, math, computers, electricity and mechanics to do the job well. And a college degree is generally not required.
In my wastewater training program for interns at EPA, I’ve done road trips to various plants to give the new hires an appreciation for the role of operators. After these visits, the interns really got a good sense of what it means to run a well managed facility that stays in compliance with federal and state laws.
Are you familiar with how your local wastewater treatment plant operates? Here’s some general information available on EPA’s web site. http://www.epa.gov/ebtpages/watewastewater.html
About the author: Jim Kern works for the Water Protection Division in EPA Region 3. He recently won the region’s Instructor of the Year award for designing and delivering a program to educate regional employees on wastewater treatment.