A Window to Performance

A Web-based system catalogs and preserves operator knowledge at the newly expanded and upgraded Littleton/Englewood Wastewater Treatment Plant

Whom can you ask when the old guys are gone?

That question drove Greg Farmer, John Wright, and the crew at the Littleton/Englewood (Colo.) Wastewater Treatment Plant to launch one of the most ambitious Web-based plant information systems in the water management field.

They call it the InfoNet and it’s part of the plant’s Knowledge Management Transfer program. It captures and displays all the relevant information about every process and piece of equipment in the plant. The data includes standard operating procedures, equipment specifications, troubleshooting, maintenance history, and more. It’s a gigantic electronic operations manual.

“We started collecting this kind of information several years ago on a simple intranet when we recognized that, with a lot of our staff nearing retirement, we risked losing all the knowledge in their heads,” explains Farmer, process specialist.

“When we upgraded the plant recently, we realized we needed to capture and organize information on a whole new set of processes. Brown and Caldwell, our design engineering firm, offered a new software package with features that made knowledge documentation and management much easier. It also contained extensive process information — the kind of data about which we were concerned. We purchased it and have been entering material ever since.”

Farmer explains that Brown and Caldwell enters information on equipment, design and control strategies, while the plant enters SOPs, troubleshooting guides, emergency response, and other data. In the Littleton/Englewood system, all data and information about plant processes, including photographs and video clips, are organized on a secure Web site. Right now, the site is hosted on the Brown and Caldwell server, but plans are to move it soon to the plant server. “That will make it even faster for us,” says Farmer.

Major expansion

The Knowledge Management Transfer system is just one notable feature of the Littleton/Englewood plant. Thanks to an eight-and-a-half year, $114 million expansion, today’s facility looks nothing like the original activated sludge plant, built in 1977. Even though construction took place while the existing facility kept operating, no permit violations occurred, and treatment performance was never compromised.

Designed by Brown and Caldwell, the upgrade reduces nitrate in effluent discharged to the South Platte River and expands design capacity from 36 mgd to 50 mgd. Littleton/Englewood is now Colorado’s third largest wastewater treatment plant.

Nitrate reduction is accomplished through the addition of the new Denite denitrification process, provided by Severn Trent. Using methanol as a carbon source, biomass reduces nitrate concentrations, while providing filtration benefits. The project also repaired and improved much of the facility’s aging infrastructure.

In the new flow scheme, interceptors from Englewood and Littleton discharge to the influent structure. The flows from each interceptor are continuously measured in flumes and recorded. Several manual gates upstream of the flumes allow the two separate flows to be combined and routed through either flume.

The headworks consists of mechanically cleaned bar screens, influent pumping, and grit removal. Ferric sulfate is added at the influent structure to assist in downstream processes. Two new primary clarifiers were added (for a total of six) and the mechanical components of the older units were replaced. The plant normally operates three or four clarifiers simultaneously.

The flow then passes to a trio of aluminum-domed high-density plastic media trickling filters, each with rotary distribution manifolds. During the solids contact process, trickling filter effluent is mixed with activated sludge to help the sludge settle and oxidize any remaining carbonaceous BOD. As part of the upgrade, an existing solids contact tank was retrofitted as an aeration tank to aerate the return solids from the final clarifiers.

Mixed liquor from the solids contact tanks flows by gravity to seven final clarifiers. Secondary clarifier effluent ammonia is converted to nitrate in three more aluminum-domed nitrifying trickling filters. They are filled with plastic media and equipped with an influent ammonia analyzer. Final effluent is chlorinated with sodium hypochlorite and dechlorinated with sodium bisulfite.

In the solids processing area, dissolved air flotation thickeners thicken the sludge before anaerobic digestion and final dewatering in centrifuges. Polymer is added to the centrifuge feed to improve the separation of solids and water. Biosolids are transported to plant-owned farms for land application.

Stop, look, learn

Helping operators monitor all these processes is a key role of the Knowledge Management Transfer system. By entering an ID name and password, staff can access the InfoNet Web site from PCs or, in the future, handheld devices. Upon entering the site, the individual views a detailed, color-coded flow diagram of the entire facility, from influent pumps to final discharge and biosolids handling. In the navigation menu, users can select such links as:

• Operations manual

• Standard operating procedures (SOPs)

• Plant training and activity calendar

• Emergency response

• Safety

• Operations central

• Documents

• Administration

• Training

At the top of the page, a search box lets the user penetrate the vast database to find specific topics. The operations manual was uploaded from manufacturers’ documents, and the training, safety, calendar, and other functions were built from available plant information. While all features are important, the SOP section required the most work and gives the Littleton/Englewood team the greatest pride.

“We’ve taken the software program and written the heck out of it,” says Farmer. “It’s a good program and we’re running with it.” Clicking the SOP heading brings a drop-down list of all the processes in the treatment plant. Users can drill down further into a process and locate individual components or procedures, then have those displayed on the screen, complete with step-by-step operating procedures, explanations, preventive maintenance requirements, calibration, and troubleshooting.

A Hotspots feature identifies locations in a system or specific procedures that are critical to success or require special care and attention. For example, operators can view the ChemScan (Applied Spectrometry Associates Inc.) analyzers in the denitrification section, see pictures of how the chemicals are added, how pumps turn on and off, and how flows are adjusted.

When Farmer started gathering those precious tidbits of information from operators, he devised an incentive plan to reward those who contributed. “But nobody was really interested,” he says. “We were able to implement the program as a standard part of everybody’s job. Incentives weren’t necessary. Now, people are really getting into it.”

Formula for success

To make it work, Farmer and Wright, a seasoned operator with experience in and a liking for data management, meet monthly with the Knowledge Management Team, four volunteer operators and plant database administer Brenna Durkin. Meetings identify new SOPs that need developing, and review and update SOPs on the system.

“We’ll take input in any form,” says Wright. “Sometimes we develop an SOP in 30 minutes to an hour, but usually it takes several days, especially after we verify all the information. My job is to make the process easier for operators of all kinds.”

The information derives from interviews, handwritten forms, and e-mails, says Wright, who admits to taking a good bit of pleasure in the process. “The information comes from all levels — operators, managers, supervisors.” Wright and Farmer take most of the photos that appear on the site, and they are experimenting with video, planning to add motion and sound to the instructions in the future.

“Once an SOP is approved, it’s locked in place, and we issue a work order to have it put into the system,” Farmer explains. “We’re building this as we go along.” Wright is on special assignment from the operational staff for this task, and it is obvious his enthusiasm and knowledge are propelling the system.

Support up top

Everyone at Littleton/Englewood agrees that top management support is critical to the success of the InfoNet. Jim Tallent, operations division manager, believes in the system because he uses it and contributes to it. “I find information that I must write down and put into the system,” he says. “And I am learning things from the system that I didn’t know before.”

He points out that the InfoNet forces a consistent level of quality throughout plant operations. “It arranges knowledge so that a specific operation consistently produces the same result,” he says.

While response overall among the facility’s 76 employees has been positive, some may feel that their process expertise makes them valuable to the organization, and are reluctant to share it. “Others are more than happy to participate,” Tallent says.

New employees find the system especially valuable. “The system is an excellent teaching tool, helping our newer operators pass their tests and become certified,” Tallent notes.

Farmer foresees the day when the InfoNet will be robust enough so that the Littleton/Englewood plant could develop its own in-house certification process. The system demonstrates that as treatment plants and processes become more sophisticated and complicated, the information processes also must change.

As Tallent puts it, “When we initiated Phase II of our expansion plan, we decided on online O&M manuals instead of binders that would just sit on the shelf. Even the state accepted our ideas and has access to the site.”

Still, Wright believes the team is just scratching the surface. “There’s a phenomenal amount of information still to be gathered,” he says.

Tallent concludes, “You can never have enough process knowledge. This is something you just have to do. When Operator Jones ultimately leaves the facility, we don’t have to ask, ‘How did he do that?’ It’s right there.”


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