Forward Thinking

Mike Turley’s vision helps the Village of New Lenox (Ill.) prepare for the future and keep treatment plant personnel engaged and on board
Forward Thinking

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Mike Turley considers treating wastewater one of the most valuable services municipalities provide to their residents.

Turley, 58, is supervisor of Waste Water Reclamation for the Village of New Lenox, Ill., overseeing three treatment plants with a combined 3.6 mgd flow. The effluent permits are some of the most restrictive in the state because the plants discharge to sensitive waters. Plant 1 discharges to Hickory Creek, one of the most pristine waterways in the Chicago area.

Turley has spent much of his career emphasizing that wastewater treatment is a keystone to advanced civilization and instilling its importance in his staff and to students in his classes at Joliet Junior College and Southern Illinois University. He also serves as a prime example of the career opportunities in the industry — he started as an operator and worked his way up to his present position.

Turley worked for six years with the DuPage County (Ill.) Department of Public Works before moving to New Lenox, where he has been for 25 years. At New Lenox, his accomplishments include developing a method to gauge the inflow and infiltration (I&I) entering Plant 1. He also created construction and inspection policies for new infrastructure and started a continuing education plan for the wastewater department.

His leadership has inspired loyalty: Many of his 11 team members have served 15 to 20 years or more, and the staff has a combined 159 years of experience.

In 2002, the Illinois Water Environment Association (IWEA) named Turley Best Operator of the Year. The Illinois EPA selected him as the 2003 Wastewater Operator of the Year, the highest honor for an operator in the state. Turley also won the American Public Works Association Chicago Chapter’s 2005 Charles Nichols Award for environmental excellence. In 2010, he received the IWEA Golden Manhole Award for his professional contributions to the collection system industry.

Normal circumstances

New Lenox built its first treatment plant in 1960 in the heart of the downtown business district. It was expanded in 1970, 1989, 1992, 1999 and 2005 to handle 2.5 mgd. As development moved south, Plant 2 was built in 1970 and updated in 1995 to treat 0.7 mgd.

Plant 3, designed for an average flow of 60,000 gpd and a maximum of 1.24 mgd, was built on the north side in 2002 with intent to serve an office complex and a hospital and retail outlets under construction. An anticipated residential expansion never happened, and a large subdivision sits vacant. The village also has 113 miles of sewers; 2,640 manholes; a two-acre stormwater lagoon; and 12 remote lift stations.

Meeting maintenance requirements is challenging for Turley’s staff, but it gives them opportunities to expand their horizons and heighten their sense of self-worth. “For little boys, the world is mud-luscious and puddle-wonderful, and there is no better place for that than treatment plants,” says Turley, paraphrasing the poet e.e. cummings. “Good employees enjoy the challenge of multiple duties. Keep them busy, show them respect, offer advancement, and they’re happy to stay.”

Turley assigns an area of responsibility to every member. “I tell them what needs to be done, but they decide how to do it,” he says. “Empowerment helps them realize the value of their work and function better as a team.” The staff stays connected through weekly meetings.

Innovation rules

The policy has paid huge dividends, as members freely make suggestions and solve challenges using old-fashioned ingenuity. For example, in 2000, Plant 1 added a gravity thickener that layered solids in anaerobic conditions. The bound water returned to the plant, while the thickened solids went to aerobic digesters. The gravity thickener, however, had no odor control.

“The odor was so bad that the village considered abandoning the thickener,” says Turley. “The engineers’ estimate to cover the circular tank was $80,000 to $100,000, but my team figured they could do it for around $8,000.” They built a frame out of two-by-fours, coated it with two-part epoxy, laid a Plexiglas cover over it, and caulked the seams. A pump drew the air into an underground biofilter.

The design worked well until ultraviolet rays from sunlight rotted the cover. At a staff meeting, Class 1 operator Paul Burris recalled that landfills used UV-resistant liners. Turley contacted MPC Containment Systems in Chicago and got his cover, then six more for the digesters. Two more digesters, added during the 2005 expansion, have concrete covers. Fifteen homemade odor-control units treat the drawn-off air.

In another instance, the staff corrected the lagoon’s chlorination system after two engineered designs failed. “In the first design, the flowmeter that turned on the chlorine was on the discharge side of the lagoon, so the 100,000-gallon chlorine contact system was full of unchlorinated water before the meter registered anything,” says Turley. “By the time the chlorine turned on, it couldn’t catch up.”

The engineers then built a traditional chlorine contact concrete tank on the other side of the flowmeter. Now chlorine turned on the minute there was flow. But that fix did not always produce water that met the 0.75 ppm free chlorine limit and the fecal coliform requirements.

So, the staff fashioned a plastic divider with a hole in the bottom and installed it near the end of the contact tank. A sump pump mixes liquid sodium bisulfate, injected at the hole, with water as it passes through and flows out the top of the tank. “Feeding chlorine enabled us to meet our fecal standards, while the bisulfate lowered our chlorine residual to meet our effluent chlorine residual standards,” says Turley.

Free thinking

Turley’s liberal arts degree from Governors State University provided a background in science, computer science, business management, finance, and public administration, but access to water and wastewater classes enabled him to advance through the ranks. To offer his team the same opportunities, Turley won approval from the village council for a continuing education program, paid for by the village.

“The staff can earn an associate in science degree or take courses in mechanical maintenance, then advance to a business management or public administration degree,” says Turley. For example, Burris earned his master’s in public administration while with New Lenox and is now assistant executive director of the East Orange Water Commission in Orange County, N.J.

Not content to keep education in-house, Turley began teaching environmental science classes at Joliet Junior College. He also taught short schools at Southern Illinois University to prepare students for their state Class 3 or 4 wastewater operator licenses.

In 1998, he added an advanced wastewater treatment course at Joliet for operators planning to take the state Class 1 and 2 license exams. A year later, he compiled and taught a course in collection system management that has been part of Joliet curriculum ever since.

Advancement, empowerment, and monetary reward have kept turnover low and dedication high among Turley’s team. For example, Kathy Baltz, a Class I operator in charge of the laboratory, has been with the village 21 years, while Brian Williams, a Class 1 operator in charge of Plant 1, has been there 20 years.

Is that our water?

As the village expanded, Turley battled with how to measure flows to detect I&I. “I began by comparing our water sales with plant flows,” he says. “Anything arriving in the plant that we didn’t sell as water is excess.”

He determined the theoretical flow by dividing the 12-square-mile service area into subsections and counting the number of houses per section. Crews then used two portable flowmeters to monitor them. It took two years to determine actual flows.

Turley also looked at influent total solids and BOD, which should average 0.2 pounds per person per day. “It’s a time-consuming process,” he says. “We also do a lot of visual observations and sampling throughout the system for ammonia nitrogen and turbidity. Then we compare those numbers with the plant numbers. If turbidity and ammonia are much lower in one area, it’s probably due to I&I, and we concentrate our rehabilitation efforts there.”

The numbers prove the success of the program. In 2000, the effluent flow at Plant 1 was 1.6 mgd with 150 ppm total solids during wet weather. In 2009, the flow was 2.1 mgd with 234 ppm. “The flow is increasing because we have more people, and the solids concentration should be going up because of less I&I,” says Turley.

After crews worked hard to reduce I&I in one area, it shot back up when contractors built a subdivision with defective infrastructure. “That began our subdivision inspection policy, and my Class 1 maintenance man, Ken Brozovich, became the inspector,” says Turley.

Controlling product

Turley also convinced the village engineer to let him review new subdivision blueprints to see if the designs worked from an operational perspective. The policy has prevented such errors as connecting a lateral with the sewer by running the line under a retention pond instead of around it.

“The village is unique in that our administrator, Russ Loebe, and public works director, Ron Sly, are Class 1 operators,” says Turley. “It’s a blessing to have people who understand what I’m talking about when there is a problem.”

During the 2005 expansion, for example, Turley wanted recirculation on the solids handling system, but the engineers proposed the traditional approach — thicken the material before it went to the digester, then send it to storage. Loebe and Sly, knowing that recirculation offered more flexibility, supported Turley.

The recirculation system allows operators to send waste activated sludge to the digesters or gravity thickener. They can split the flow to different digesters or, after dewatering with a gravity belt thickener, send it to the storage tanks or return it to different points in the digestion system based on dissolved oxygen in the tank and the solids concentration in the digesters.

Loebe and Sly also backed Turley as he helped to develop bid specifications identifying the materials to use in sewer lines, manholes and lift stations. One unique specification requires contractors to insert PVC pipe into steel sewer pipes that run under railroad tracks and busy roads. “The aged steel pipes are thin and difficult to clean, while the plastic pipe does not corrode or lose carrying capacity,” says Turley.

Turley’s post-construction inspection program checks sites for damage during the later stages of construction. The village obtains a one-year warranty from developers, and Turley developed an end-of-warranty inspection program.

Meanwhile, Brozovich routinely inspects construction sites through all phases of development. “Bad sewer contractors avoid us because they know of our stringent requirements and inspections,” says Turley.

While treating sewage properly is essential to human health and the environment, Turley’s years of experience assure the community of award-winning service.


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