A major plant upgrade didn’t keep the team at a Tulsa clean-water plant from meeting permit limits and earning a Platinum Peak Performance Award.


A major upgrade was a long time coming for the Lower Bird Creek Water Pollution Control Facility.

The 20-year-old facility in Tulsa, Oklahoma, needed new headworks to solve a debris removal issue, plus a circular clarifier and new SCADA system. Completed in June 2012, the upgrade also doubled plant capacity from 2 mgd to 4 mgd to meet city growth and take in additional wastewater from the city of Catoosa.

Several years of plant construction presented challenges for the operators. These included taking the oxidation ditch out of service for 30 days and diverting flow to equalization basins while keeping the biomass alive. Construction delays added more stress.

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“The delays were very long, but we just dealt with it and put up with the construction mess and dirt piles,” recalls Zane Briggs, operations supervisor.

Shawn Glen, plant superintendent, has high praise for the team: “Zane and his group did a great job. We were able to meet our permit throughout the expansion project.” They also won the 2015 Platinum Peak Performance Award from the National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA), recognizing 100 percent permit compliance for five consecutive years.

Says Glen, “We work hard to achieve this goal every year, and so far we are the only facility in the state to have won the Platinum Award.” He credits teamwork for the plant’s success:

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“That’s a recurring theme here. It got us through the upgrade, helped us win the award, and is the reason for our ongoing success.” Effluent typically contains less than 2 mg/L CBOD5, less than 3 mg/L TSS, and less than 0.2 mg/L ammonia.

Doubling capacity

The Lower Bird Creek plant, in northeast Tulsa on a bluff overlooking the Port of Catoosa, is one of four wastewater facilities owned by the Tulsa Metropolitan Utility Authority (TMUA).

It serves 13,000 people. The 2012 expansion included:

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  • Bar screen and continuous self-cleaning in-channel screen (Parkson Aqua Guard)
  • Advanced grit system including HeadCell multi-tray grit removal, SlurryCup grit washing and Grit Snail dewatering (Hydro International)
  • Seepex progressive cavity sludge pumps (Grainger)
  • Circular clarifier (Walker Process)
  • Two brush aerators with variable-frequency drives
  • Odor control (PureAir Filtration)
  • Effluent water pumps (Grundfos)
  • Lift station pumps (Fairbanks Nijhuis)

Wastewater enters the plant through a 24-inch force main from the South Port Lift Station and a 16-inch force main from the Spunky Creek Lift Station. After preliminary treatment, the process includes oxidation ditch aeration, final clarification, UV disinfection and post-aeration. An average of 130 gpm of plant effluent is chlorinated and used for pump seal water and other plant processes.

The new headworks has greatly improved the operators’ jobs. “In the past, the staff had to remove debris by hand using pool nets and catch baskets,” says Briggs. “We now have fewer sludge pump stoppages and less floating debris throughout the plant. The new SCADA system allows remote monitoring and control of all plant and lift station equipment. It includes trend screens that operators can monitor remotely at night. The circular clarifier has improved settling compared to the old rectangular basins.

Before startup, engineering firm Black & Veatch and equipment vendors held on-site training sessions. “The vendors trained us on all the individual pieces, and we received operations training from the engineer, who explained how it all worked together,” says Briggs. “The learning curve wasn’t very long, since most of the operators had worked at our larger plants before coming here.”

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Going platinum

During plant expansion, the operations team dealt with shutdowns and process challenges. “We took the oxidation ditch out of service for a month to make the tie-ins for the new headworks building, to install new brush rotors and to clean out 17 years of solids buildup,” Glen recalls.

The team diverted flow to the equalization basins while trying to keep the bugs happy. “We had the ability to aerate 0.8 million gallons in a smaller basin, but when it came time to fill our oxidation ditch, we ended up hauling in close to 0.5 million gallons of seed sludge from one of our larger plants, 15 miles away, using 6,000-gallon tank trucks,” Glen says.

During that time, the staff managed to meet permit. “We have standard operating procedures that we follow and indicators that let us know how the equipment is operating,” says Briggs. “And scheduled maintenance keeps everything running smoothly.”

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Glen adds, “During the five years that the Platinum Award covered, two were during the plant upgrade, and another included coming up to speed on the new equipment. So, it was even more of an accomplishment to win that award.”

Staff empowerment is key. “We strive to empower the operations team by letting them know that this is their plant,” Glen says. “They can make decisions on their own, within prescribed parameters, and they feel a sense of pride in their work.”

Highly experienced

The team has 143 years of collective wastewater treatment experience. Glen and Briggs hold Class A (highest) wastewater operator licenses. Their team includes:

  • Operators IV Kenny Friend and Manny Verges, both Class B license holders
  • Operators III Tom Collins and John Hines, also both Class B
  • Mechanics III Eric DeAlba (Class C) and Al Parker (Class D)

Operators work a 12-hour shift, and the plant is remotely monitored at night by the staff at the Northside facility. Primary duties include plant monitoring, sampling, tracking and logging data every two hours, and keeping up the grounds. They also assist the mechanics if needed.

“They take a lot of pride in how the plant looks, from hosing out the buildings to mowing the grass, and everyone lends a hand to do whatever needs to be done,” says Briggs.

“They’re highly experienced with a lot of passion, and they take their job seriously every day.”

Until 2008, the Lower Bird Creek plant had no regular staff. “It was remotely monitored and one of the Northside plant operators would come out and take the required samples,” says Glen. “Zane was the first to be hired at the plant, and he handled all the day-to-day operations. He didn’t have a cookie cutter role, but was able to make the job whatever he needed it to be.”

Operators have gone above and beyond to solve problems. “Before the expansion, they had an issue with settling in the final clarifier,” says Glen. “This was due to short circuiting, which caused a higher-than-desired effluent TSS.” Operators and mechanics worked together to design and build a polymer feed system with storage tank, mixing system and peristaltic pump to help the solids settleability until the new clarifier was brought online.

Future improvements

With the plant expansion in the rearview mirror, the team’s biggest challenge is biosolids management. Operators haul the solids 10 to 15 miles by tanker truck to the Northside plant for processing. “We have to do this every day, and it’s hazardous,” says Glen. “We had a tanker truck roll over, and the driver was injured. It also takes an operator away from plant operation.”

A 10-mile force main under construction as of last June is designed to allow solids to be pumped to the Northside plant. “We had talked about doing this, but the accident forced the issue and reminded us how dangerous and time-consuming the hauling is,” says Glen. The main was to be completed in summer 2016.

In May 2016, the plant installed a UV disinfection system (TrojanUV 3000) to satisfy the state Department of Environmental Quality requirement for year-round disinfection. Says Glen,

“We were previously required to disinfect from May to December only. We used bleach and bisulfite, but we decided that UV was the best technology for our facility. We visited another plant that had that system, and the staff there was very excited about it.”

A primary clarifier is on the wish list, along with an updated holding basin for diverting flow during heavy rains. “The plant is designed for 8 mgd peak flow, but when it gets to 6 mgd, we need to divert the flow,” says Glen. “When the water subsides, we slowly bring the flow back to the plant.”

For now, the plant is in great shape. “The expansion gave us a final clarifier, which we didn’t have before,” says Glen. “And now we have the UV system and we’re working on the new force main. So we feel very fortunate.”

He is also thankful for the operations and maintenance team: “Their greatest success is the ability to communicate. They talk in the morning and make sure they help each other with projects. They all pull together to get the job done.”


Stormy weather

Operators at the Lower Bird Creek Water Pollution Control Facility deal with some extreme weather, including hot summers and bone-chilling winters. “We’re prone to ice storms, and that causes problems,” says Shawn Glen, plant superintendent. “We have power outages almost every other year.” One year a small tornado just missed a lift station.

Fortunately, the plant has a dual power feed. “That works well,” says Zane Briggs, operations supervisor. “It would take something major to disrupt both those sources.”

The staff was tested during a major ice and snowstorm in 2011. “It caused hazardous conditions around the plant, unpassable roads and intermittent power outages,” recalls Glen. “It was an opportunity for the staff to step up and show their dedication.” The team worked after normal hours and stayed around the clock to make sure the plant operated successfully.


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