Operator

A Firsthand View

By Trey Cody

Wastewater Treatment 101 

As an intern in EPA Region III’s Water Protection Division, my day typically involved working in the office on projects related to the region’s Healthy Waters Initiative.      

But near the end of my internship this summer, I was able to get a firsthand look at what is being done to treat water in the Philadelphia area. I participated in a tour of the Southwest Water Pollution Control Plant, managed by the Philadelphia Water Department (PWD), viewing the processes that allow the plant to clean around 194 million gallons of wastewater per day.

There are the preliminary treatment processes, which remove the large debris like trash and rocks from the wastewater coming into the plant.  Then there is the removal of smaller particles like dirt and grit in a settling tank. And then, biological processes take over, as various kinds of bacteria and microorganisms go to work to consume the organic matter in the wastewater.  Finally, the water is disinfected (usually with chlorine or UV light) before it is discharged to a neighboring stream. The solids that were taken out of the water during the process are referred to as biosolids, which are usually disposed of in landfills, but can be land-applied as fertilizer.  Who knew all this happened to the water once it went down the drain in my house!  I was surprised by how large the plant was; there are so many processes to keep moving and monitor along the way.  And it wasn’t even that smelly most of the time!

The Southwest Water Pollution Control Plant was built in the early 1950’s, then expanded and renovated from 1975 to 1983 to ensure PWD met the requirements of the Clean Water Act.  This treatment plant is one of three of the PWD’s facilities that treat wastewater before it is discharged back into rivers and streams. 

Do you know where your water goes after you use it, and what happens to it along the way before it goes back into our rivers and streams?  Have you ever visited a wastewater treatment plant?  You can take a virtual tour of one of the largest plants by clicking here. http://www.dcwasa.com/about/model_flash.cfm

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Great Chemistry

By Tom Damm

operator1Leslie Gryder of Lynchburg, Va., told her local paper she “felt like crawling under a rock” upon learning she was receiving EPA’s Mid-Atlantic award for excellence in operating a large public drinking water system.

But the spotlight-shy chemist was center stage when Bill Arguto, our region’s Drinking Water Branch Chief, presented her with the award during a ceremony attended by more than 30 people, including city and state officials.

Though largely unsung, water treatment plant operators are on the front lines in preventing waterborne diseases and protecting public health.   You can take this virtual tour of a drinking water plant to see how water is treated and sent to your home or business.  And kids can follow a drop of water from the source through the treatment process at this site.

Leslie Gryder has taken the job to a new level at Lynchburg’s water treatment plant.

“We don’t make this award every year.  If we didn’t think we had a candidate who was deserving, we wouldn’t give it,” Arguto said.

Leslie implemented new processes and procedures to keep the city’s drinking water safe and clean – even assisting neighboring systems in preventing and removing microbial contamination.

If you’re aware of steps your water treatment plant has taken to improve its operations, we’d like to hear about them.

About the Author: Tom Damm has been with EPA since 2002 and now serves as communications coordinator for the region’s Water Protection Division.  Prior to joining EPA, he held state government public affairs positions in New Jersey and worked as a daily newspaper reporter.  When not in the office, Tom enjoys cycling and volunteer work.  Tom and his family live in Hamilton Township, N.J., near Trenton.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Watts up? Bring ‘em down

To learn more, click here to register for a  June 16, 2011 webinar that starts 2:00pm http://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=business.bus_internet_presentations.  Click on “View live web conference schedule…”   In the search tool, type “wastewater.”

EPA is offering your town a way to save money on energy costs.

Energy use at wastewater treatment plants (WWTP’s) and drinking water treatment plants (DWTP’s) contribute significantly to municipalities’ total electric bill.  These critical utilities operate large motors that run pumps and blowers used for treating and conveying water and wastewater 24/7.  These facilities offer opportunities for cost-effective operational changes and investments in energy-efficient technologies.

The first step to energy and cost savings is to benchmark current energy usage.  A free and easy way is for towns to use EPA’s Energy Star Portfolio Manager.  This online tool allows managers of WWTP’s and DWTP’s to track energy usage, energy costs and associated carbon emissions and to compare energy usage with comparable plants.

The tool is also helpful in identifying efficiency opportunities within a facility. 

Towns will have an opportunity to learn more during a June 16 webinar.

Encourage your town to participate.  It’s free and it could lead to big savings.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Flushed with Success

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.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.