Deep Dive

Dave Kalin devotes himself fully to exceptional-quality treatment, and to building an efficient plant with a cross-trained and highly competent staff
Deep Dive

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It is the summer of 2008. From a small boat, a SCUBA diver descends 20 feet to the bottom of Lake Ontario, more than a quarter-mile from shore. He approaches the outfall of the Town of Webster wastewater treatment plant and takes a grab sample of effluent in a glass jar.

The diver is Dave Kalin, chief operator of the Walter W. Bradley Treatment Plant in Webster, N.Y. He is taking the sample to prove to regulators that because of dilution in the lengthy outfall line, the chlorine residual in the plant’s effluent is within permit limits. The finding will make potentially costly changes to the plant’s disinfection facility unnecessary.

But there’s more. The dive also reveals that the last section of the outfall line is broken — pieces are scattered about the lake bottom. And the diffuser at the end of the line is simply gone. Thus the dive, at Kalin’s expense, helped the city avoid the cost of upgrading its disinfection unit, while revealing a problem that could have gone unnoticed for years, becoming progressively more expensive to repair.

This is typical of Kalin, 2010 winner of the State of New York Uhl T. Mann Award for operational excellence. “He always asks, ‘What do I need to do to get this done,’” says colleague Jim Oates, plant operator. “In the six years he’s been here, he has accomplished a lot.” That he has. In the Mann award application, Kalin was credited with:

• Establishing the city’s pretreatment program.

• Implementing extensive safety procedures.

• Writing the town’s first sewer overflow and spill-response programs.

• Preparing the town’s five-year plan as mandated by the state.

• Overseeing numerous process improvements.

• Developing training, public relations, and overall effective management and communications practices.

Hometown boy

At 54, Kalin has come a long way from growing up in the Town of Webster, on the Lake Ontario shore, and graduating from high school there in 1974. “I remember how polluted the Irondequoit Bay was then,” he recalls. “I had a boat and I liked to fish. The water quality was very poor. I could see the pollution, and it was a shame.”

Like many veterans in the clean-water profession, Kalin went right to work as a laborer at the treatment plant at age 18, and moved up quickly. He took courses at the State University of New

York-Morrisville and Syracuse University to obtain certification and earn his operator’s license. He took correspondence courses from Michigan

State University and California State University at Sacramento.

“When I started,” he says, “I really wasn’t thinking that much about cleaning the water, but the job opening was there, and once I got into it I enjoyed it and found it quite interesting. I took the initiative to get certified and make a career out of it.”

After a stint as a pump and process specialist at the 120 mgd Van Lare Wastewater Treatment Plant, which serves greater Rochester, Kalin returned to his hometown plant in 1979 and became the second in command in 2004. Two years later, he was named chief operator.

High-quality product

The Webster facility treats wastewater collected in a 300-mile network of sewers and 21 pumping stations. It is rated for 7.5 mgd and treats an average of about 6.0 mgd. The original plant was a trickling filter operation, dating back to 1968. It was upgraded in 1980–82, and today uses activated sludge to turn out an exceptional-quality effluent, achieving removals of 93 to 97 percent for TSS and BOD.

Ferric chloride is added for phosphorus removal, and the plant has nitrogen limits that it meets consistently. Three anaerobic digesters stabilize the waste biosolids and generate biogas, used to heat the digesters and the solids-handling building. A centrifuge dewaters the biosolids, and the cake is landfilled.

Sodium hypochlorite disinfects the water before discharge. Some of the effluent is reused in the plant for washing and rinsing equipment. The plant also treats some wastewater from the nearby Village of Penfield.

Straight to work

As the new person in charge at Webster, Kalin wasted little time making needed changes. He was instrumental in acquiring and installing the centrifuge (Andritz), saving the town about $40,000 a year in biosolids hauling costs. He also initiated using Bioxide (Siemens) to control odors from biosolids operations and at the landfill, and led the adoption of a new SCADA system for plant controls.

By fine-tuning the digester process and using the biogas as fuel (Cannon mixers from Infilco Degremont, H.B. Smith boiler), Kalin’s team is saving even more in energy costs. “We estimate about $20,000 a year in savings there,” Kalin says.

The water reuse plan is paying off, as well. “We’re reusing more and more of our own effluent,” Kalin says. “We’ve seen about a 30 percent reduction in our water consumption, saving more than $300 per month.” Other improvements include revamping the bar screen and grit removal facilities for longer life and replacing old coarse-bubble diffusers with fine-bubble ceramic diffusers (ITT Water & Wastewater – Sanitaire), cutting the energy requirements for aeration from 300 hp to 75 hp.

Effective leader

All that is good, but when his staff nominated Kalin for the prestigious Mann Award last year, they emphasized his management skills and leadership, especially in safety, training, and industrial pretreatment.

“The key to safe operations is training, training, training,” says Kalin, who has been a safety trainer most of his clean-water career. “This can be a dangerous profession. Confined spaces, lack of oxygen, vehicle operation. I can remember in the early days operators going into a multiple-hearth furnace with only a dust mask on. No gas detectors, no second person on site.”

In fact, he believes improvement in safety procedures is one of the biggest advances he’s seen in wastewater operations. “Today, we use safety videos, and we train our staff in everything from CPR to driver education, using OSHA-approved seminars,” he says. “I’m proud of our record here — no lost time accidents, no one hurt or killed.”

Oates adds, “Under Dave’s tenure, the town has all of its gas detectors and meters calibrated quarterly, and confined-space permits and lock-out/tag-out have become routine.”

Kalin is also a big believer in cross-training. His responsibilities extend beyond the treatment plant to the town’s collection system, and so his staff is trained in both. “Our six employees spend two weeks at the plant, followed by two weeks in our collections system,” he says. “When someone’s out sick, or on vacation, cross-training helps us fill the gap. Plus, nobody feels their job is more difficult or important than anyone else’s.”

That helps boost morale, another important factor in successful management. “There’s no finger-pointing here,” says Kalin. “We get along together.”

Medicine recycling

The Webster crew waives its afternoon break so that the staff can have more time together in the mornings. “On Thursdays, two of our folks are in charge of making breakfast for the staff — breakfast sandwiches, eggs and bacon,” he says. “We enjoy doing that.”

With responsibilities for the town’s industrial pretreatment program, Kalin and the Webster treatment plant take part in the local pharmaceuticals recycling program. “It’s big here,” Kalin says. “We’re in our third year of hosting the waste pharmaceutical products right here at the plant.” Kalin has worked with the state departments of environmental protection and health so that residents can drive in and drop off pharmaceuticals in a barrel, which is overseen and secured by local law enforcement.

“In 2009, we collected over 400 pounds of drugs and 16 pounds of needles from some 87 participants,” says Kalin. “The material is taken to Niagara Falls, where it is incinerated to generate power. It helps keep these materials out of the sewers, and off the bathroom shelves where kids might get at them.”

That’s the kind of collaborative approach Kalin takes with all his activities. His staff members compliment him on his public education efforts and his ability to keep the town board and local citizens aware of the treatment plant’s importance to the community. Despite his soft-spoken nature, he communicates effectively, especially in budget presentations to town officials.

“A good supervisor is cost-conscious,” he says. “We work hard to keep our board happy and keep costs down.” In fact, the sewer rate in Webster is $162.50 per year per resident and has held steady for 10 years. It’s about $100 per unit lower than costs used to be, and that has been made possible by reducing staff and improving operations to the most efficient levels.

Tackling chlorine

As for that chlorine issue for which Kalin made his dive, the town is under orders to reduce chlorine residual in its effluent from 2.0 to 0.25 mg/l. Kalin visited the outfall up close after his staff and the engineering consultant had performed dye tests, a dilution study, flow metering, and total chlorine decay studies — all to prove to regulators that chlorine residual was not an issue in the effluent.

The damage he found in the outfall line is being addressed. “We’re getting the pipe fixed, and we’re replacing the diffusers so the town can meet the schedule of compliance in the latest SPDES permit.” Kalin says. “We’re 99 percent sure we’ll get some stimulus money for the project. We’re getting it done.”


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