A Home Run Career

Tim Woodward’s dream of playing Major League baseball never came true, but he turned his passion to wastewater treatment, with all-star results

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If Tim Woodward weren’t such a hard-charger, he might not be superintendent of the award-winning Turkey Creek (Ind.) Regional Sewer District Wastewater Treatment Plant.

His first love was baseball, but when he barreled into second base on a steal attempt in college and broke his ankle, his dream of playing in the major leagues ended with three steel pins inserted to keep the bones together.


So he turned to wastewater treatment, an industry he had known since he mowed grass at the local utility as a 14-year-old worker on the old CETA federal-government-sponsored temporary employment program. Today, he couldn’t be happier.


“All I really wanted was a job I liked,” says Woodward. “When baseball didn’t happen, it was wastewater. I’m really happy with what we’re doing here.”

His staff shares his enthusiasm. “Tim sets a good example,” says chief operator Ryan Curtis. “He’s straightforward — no rigmarole.”


Laboratory manager Jane Bauer agrees: “Tim has the right attitude and keeps everybody in the plant on board. That makes our jobs easier.”


Critical resource

Woodward became a full-time member of the wastewater profession in 1987 as a staffer at the treatment plant in his hometown of Roann, Ind. Eventually, he moved on to the Town of Cromwell as plant manager and earned his water and wastewater certification.


Then, in 1990, when the Turkey Creek regional authority was formed and built a new plant to treat wastewater from the homes and businesses around popular Lake Wawasee, he joined that new staff as laboratory manager. After eight years, he was promoted to assistant superintendent. In 2007, he became superintendent of wastewater treatment and water treatment, as well as wastewater collections.


“This is a big district,” he says proudly. “We have more than 32 miles of sewers, and the 1,890 connections around the lake occupy some of the most expensive real estate in the state.”

The plant is a Class 2 activated sludge facility with a pair of oxidation ditches (Lakeside Equipment Corporation). Average flow is 250,000 gpd in winter and 400,000 to 600,000 gpd in summer and on holiday weekends.


Septic systems around the lake receive raw sewage. Septic tank effluent enters the district’s collection system and flows by gravity or through force mains to the treatment plant. The loop of 4- and 12-inch pipes, installed in 1990, surrounds the lake, a 3,000-acre natural body of water and the major recreational site in Kosciusko County, northwest of Fort Wayne.


The plant’s role in protecting water quality is critical: Lake Wawasee is one of the most popular recreational lakes in the Midwest. Vacationers from Chicago and Indianapolis visit to enjoy boating, swimming, and sightseeing. The Eli Lilly pharmaceuticals family residence is a landmark. Numerous marinas and sailing clubs occupy the shoreline.


The lake is a glacial and spring-fed with 3,060 acres of surface area, and depths to 77 feet. The largest lake in Indiana, its watershed encompasses more than 23,000 acres. Water clarity is exceptional, partly through the vigilance of the local community and the Wawasee Area Conservancy Foundation, a nonprofit group concerned about the region’s water quality.


Effective N removal

The secondary treatment system at Turkey Creek does its job effectively. A coarse bar screen and sewage grinder in the influent structure take care of large solids. Three submersible pumps transport the sewage to a centrifugal grit chamber. The material removed is deposited in a decant dumpster and hauled to a landfill.


In the secondary phase, the oxidation ditches reduce the organic loading and remove ammonia nitrogen. Two rotary aerators in each basin mix and aerate the wastewater. A tandem of circular clarifiers follow the ditches, equipped with rotating sludge collectors that move the solids to the center of the tank floor.


The design of the system (HNTB) provides adequate aeration and sludge return capacity, enabling the plant to operate successfully as a nitrification process. Turkey Creek cuts ammonia nitrogen significantly, achieving better than 99 percent removal (see performance table).


A UV system (Trojan Technologies) disinfects the effluent, which is discharged to a cascading re-aeration process before entering Cromwell Ditch, which flows to Solomon Creek. Waste activated sludge is pumped to an aerobic digester and then to drying beds. The biosolids cake is spread on area farm fields.


Team of winners

Making it all work is a winning team that has earned a steady stream of awards over the years, including several state honors for excellence in annual reports and laboratory practices, and an annual maintenance award from Lakeside. Recently, Woodward was placed on the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) biosolids committee. He also serves on the Indiana regional sewer district board.


Much like a player-coach, he leads by example. “I don’t ask my staff to do anything I haven’t done,” says Woodward. “If a pump needs pulling, I’ll jump in there and do it. We’re here to get things done.” His willingness to help and his zest for the job (fully evident as he describes the operation in an enthusiastic tumble of words) is catching.


Chief operator Curtis joined the Turkey Creek team after a hitch in the U.S. Army. “I’ve been here 12 years,” he says. “I like this place and have no plans to leave. Tim sets a good example. Everyone seems to know what to do.”


Woodward responds, “Ryan is loyal and shows up ready to work. Whatever we need to get done, he gets it done.”


Bauer feels “honored to work in the laboratory and really glad to be part of the Turkey Creek operation.” Her background as a bank teller helped prepare her for the numbers and detail that come with sampling and analysis, and her childhood years on a farm make her appreciate the agricultural reuse of Turkey Creek biosolids. “I wasn’t intimidated by the spreading; in fact, I was fascinated by it,” she says.


She also credits Woodward’s leadership style for the success of the operation. “Tim engenders teamwork and excitement for what we do here,” she says. “He facilitates progress.”

An example is a recent improvement in the turn-around time for ammonia nitrogen testing. “These results used to take several hours, but now we’re using a new salicylate method from Hach, and it has reduced that time to about 15 minutes,” says Bauer. “I think we’re only the second municipality in the state to use it.”


Refreshing environment

Roger Miller, in charge of the collections system and the district’s Vactor truck, joined Turkey Creek about three years ago after working with a septic system company. He’s also a farmer, raising corn and soybeans. He likes his job, which takes him around the lake checking lift stations and cleaning and maintaining the lines. He also enjoys his boss: “Tim is great to work for. He listens, and we’re always able to work through things.”


That mentality motivates the newest member of the Turkey Creek team — Jason Garber, responsible for maintenance. “I’ve been here a year and a half, about a year full-time,” he says. “Tim took me under his wing and taught me more in that time than I learned in all the years before. Tim says, ‘It’s not what you know, it’s what you know how to do,’ and that’s dead-on.”

Garber feels good about his job and accomplishments. “I grew up about two miles from the plant, lived here all my life,” he says. “Now, I’ve learned how to take care of our water and protect my friends and family. I love this job.”


Office manager Pam Johns likes the work environment too. “I worked 30 years in manufacturing accounting before I came here, and it was a real change,” she says. “But it’s a very refreshing environment. The key word here is ‘team.’”


Staying around

Gordon Evans, project manager with HNTB, has worked with Woodward and his Turkey Creek operation for more than a decade and is impressed with Woodward’s leadership style. “Tim is one of the most conscientious wastewater treatment operators we’ve ever encountered,” says Evans. “He maintains good relations with the regulators and his customers. He always wants to do the right thing. He deals with his employees fairly and in an organized manner.”


These good relations are reflected in an informal compliance program Woodward entered into with the state to address previous infiltration and inflow issues in the Turkey Creek system. “I’ve never seen a compliance program quite like this,” says Evans. “Usually, compliance is specified in a formal, signed agreement with the regulatory agency.”


Instead, Woodward and his team proactively make improvements — cleaning and televising sewers, replacing equipment — on a monthly basis and file quarterly reports that HNTB certifies. “I think the informality of the compliance agreement is a credit to Tim’s conscientious manner in operating the plant,” says Evans.

If his staff members like the environment at Turkey Creek and have no plans to leave, neither does Woodward. He cites an upcoming plant expansion plan and a sewer extension to 300 more homes as upcoming challenges. He likes working with his board.


“I’m a wastewater guy,” he says. “This place is really who I am. It’s like I sleep with a settlometer at my head.”


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