Very Resourceful

Operators consistently prove their ability to solve problems and improve processes with a unique brand of can-do creativity

In a memorable exchange from The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy tells the wizard how she and her comrades killed the Wicked Witch of the West.

“We melted her,” says Dorothy.

“Oh, you liquidated her, eh?” says the wizard. “Veeerry resourceful.”

Veeerry indeed. Who knew that something as simple as a splash from a bucket of water would kill the witch and enable Dorothy and company to fulfill their quest and bring the wizard the broomstick?

Wastewater treatment operators don’t often slay witches, but they do slay an incredible range of challenges with sometimes amazingly simple remedies. Only, unlike Dorothy, they don’t do it by happy accident. They do it with knowledge, creativity, and an ability to shed conventional assumptions.

How they do it

That’s why some of my favorite articles in Treatment Plant Operator fall under our regular feature heading of “How We Do It.”

Sometimes (as in this issue) these stories tell how a plant used a manufacturer’s product to correct a process disruption or improve effluent quality. And that’s great. But often more enjoyable are those in which plant personnel use the simplest and cleverest of tools and methods to make the plant run better.

We published one of my favorites last November. It told how Frank Hill, an electric instrument technician at the River Road Wastewater Treatment Plant in Wichita Falls, Texas, worked with colleagues to devise a simple mechanism that would prevent the release of overly chlorinated water, inviolation of the plant’s permit.

The problem releases would happen only when analytical instruments or the dechlorination chemical feed systems failed, or after power outages. The staff always discovered the problem quickly, but until they did, and intervened, chlorinated water would escape to the Big Wichita River.

The system they created essentially uses a programmable logic controller (PLC) to activate a trap door upon detection of excess chlorine. When the trap door opens, a suspended bag of sodium metabisulfite drops into the effluent stream and dangles there. In the meantime an alarm sounds to alert operators to the problem, so they can quickly find and address the cause.

Sophisticated? Not exactly. Elegant? Yes, in its simplicity. Effective? Yes again — it has worked for 10 years. If you missed this story in the magazine, by all means go to and read it.

Art plus science

Stories like this just go to demonstrate that operating a treatment plant is one part art and one part science. In a perfect world, where cost was no object, the Wichita Falls team might have called in a consulting engineer for a fix. It would have been a great deal slicker, but also a great deal more expensive (and not nearly as much fun for the staff).

Of course, money is always an object. So how do you begin to place a value on people like these who can find the proverbial nickel solution to the $1,000 problem? A lot of these folks know what they know and can do what they do because they have been around for a while. Ideally, the younger people on their teams learn from what they see.

There is no way to imagine a freshly minted operator with a two-year degree doing what Hill and his team did at Wichita Falls. And it forces one to ask: What are treatment plants going to do when wave after wave of experienced people like this retire?

So here’s the point: If you have done something amazingly creative, and remarkably inexpensive, to fix a problem at your facility, drop a note and tell us about it. We’ll be glad to share it with the operator community, in hopes it may work for someone else. If we tell enough of these stories, maybe in a small way we can blunt the impact of all these retirements we keep hearing about.

To offer your idea, just send a note to, or call me at 877/953-3301. We’ll be glad to tell your peers in the field ­just how “very resourceful” you are.


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