Always Learning

Jeff Rewerts Jr. takes his business seriously, whether chairing his state association section or rigorously maintaining an older wastewater treatment plant
Always Learning
The Mason Wastewater Treatment Plant team includes, from left, operator Jeff Rewerts, plant superintendent Sam Bibler, Department of Public Works superintendent Martin Colburn, and operators Dave Fuller, Mike Prater, and Paul Rupright.

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Jeff Rewerts hasn’t always been a wastewater treatment operator,but when he changed careers six years ago by joining the City of Mason (Mich.) Wastewater Treatment Plant, he set out to learn all he could about wastewater operations.

He immediately joined the Michigan Water Environment Association (MWEA) and obtained his Class D license as soon as possible (Michigan regulations require a year of industry experience before an operator can earn that license).

“I had worked in construction for three years, and then I saw a job listing for wastewater treatment operator in Mason, and I applied for it,” he says. “I didn’t get the job, but then four or five months later another position opened up, and I got it.”

He now holds a Class C license and is chairman of his local MWEA section. In 2010, he won Operations Professional of The Year from that organization for dedication to his employer and the MWEA, professional excellence, consistently generating good-quality effluent, and publicly promoting the profession.

His work with the MWEA includes helping to set up monthly meetings and coordinating all local section events. The section communities meet monthly to network and hear outside speakers, and the section organizes a yearly golf outing and chicken barbecue. Rewerts promotes the profession by letting people know the benefits of the job. The MWEA sends out letters to people who have just earned their first wastewater license, letting them know that the organization is there to help them.

“The MWEA provides great opportunities to learn and to network with your peers,” Rewerts says. “I was surprised to get the 2010 award, but I try to do the best I can at everything I do. I don’t consider it a job, but a career.”

That attitude has served him well at the plant, which consistently meets effluent requirements and has earned the Michigan Rural Water Association (MRWA) 2010 Wastewater Utilities of the Year Award. The plant also won the American Public Works Association (APWA) Southwest Michigan Branch Project of the Year: Environment Less Than $2 Million Award in 2009 for reuse of its final effluent.

“Jeff is an excellent operator,” says Sam Bibler, superintendent at the Mason plant. “He is willing to do any job that’s required and is always looking for a better way of doing things. Being an older plant, we don’t have sophisticated equipment like a lot of other plants, but Jeff always steps up.”

Part of the team

Although Rewerts has been rewarded for his efforts, he credits the entire operations team for the plant’s success. “They’re a great group of guys, and everyone strives to be the best they can be,” he says. “And, teamwork is huge. We all have strengths and weaknesses, and we all help each other.”

Besides equipment operation, the plant’s four operators do the bulk of the lab work, rotating every fourth week. They test for BOD, pH, phosphorus, ammonia, chlorine, total residual chlorine, TSS, fecal coliform, mixed liquor suspended solids, and return activated sludge total solids/volatile solids. Metals testing is sent to an outside laboratory.

They also maintain the equipment and do all the grounds work on the plant’s five acres. Rewerts oversees the lab operations and helps train new operators. “When we get a new employee,” says Bibler, “Jeff will work with him in the lab. Because that person will be part of the rotation and will be working a solo shift, he needs to know everything that happens in the plant. He won’t be trained by just one person, but by me, Jeff, and Dave Fuller who has been here 21 years.”

For much of his success, Rewerts credits his former supervisor Jim King, who hired him and trained him on the outdoor equipment and in the lab, and Bibler, his current supervisor.

“I learned a ton from Jim,” Rewerts says. “He had 30-plus years in the business, and although he’s retired now, he is still a big part of MWEA. Sam, who I’ve worked for during the past five years, has a huge wealth of knowledge.”

Hands-on plant

The 1.5 mgd City of Mason treatment facility is a conventional activated sludge plant using fine-bubble aeration and tertiary treatment. Built in 1957, it was upgraded in 1975 with sand filters and new pumps and compressors. A new junction box for the return and waste activated sludge was installed in 2010.

In the secondary treatment system, return activated sludge is removed by hydraulic pressure from the clarifiers to an airlift center, where Dresser Roots blowers lift it to the aeration tanks. A Dayton grinder pump (Grainger) with Allen-Bradley flow controller (Rockwell Automation) allows the plant to waste over a 24-hour period.

Two variable-speed Crane Deming pumps transfer the wastewater to four tertiary sand filters, which have two backwash pumps and two backwash return pumps (also Crane Deming). The three tertiary pumps are controlled with a Square D Class 6520 thyristor pump controller (Schneider Electric).

The wastewater is disinfected with chlorine gas, then treated with sodium metabisulfite for dechlorination.

The plant reclaims a portion of the effluent as a chemical carrier water for ferric, polymer and chlorine feed. After installing a submersible pump to reclaim effluent to a pressure tank, the town of Mason is saving an average of 212,000 gallons of potable water a month. Effluent that is not reclaimed is discharged to Sycamore Creek. Biosolids are anaerobically digested and land-applied.

An operator is on call around the clock, and an automatic dialer alerts that operator to any problems. There is no SCADA system. The lab technician takes dissolved oxygen and settleometer readings in the morning, and the operators walk through the plant in the afternoon to check on the equipment and take activated sludge readings.

Rewerts sees both disadvantages and advantages to working at an older plant. “There are some wastewater processes that we don’t have that other plants have that I would like to learn about. And we have to be diligent about maintenance. This is a very hands-on plant, but that’s great for learning. For example, Dave Fuller, who has been here for 21 years, trained me on how to repair and rebuild pumps, and that is a very good skill to have.”

Future goals

Rewerts says his greatest achievement has been getting his Class C license and with it extensive knowledge of the business. This year, he hopes to obtain his Class B license. “The state requires that whoever signs the monthly operating reports must have a Class B, since we are a Class B plant,” he says. “My supervisor signs the reports now, since he has his Class A, and eventually I would like to obtain mine, too, so I can expand my knowledge and skills.”

He foresees that the Mason plant will have to undergo a major upgrade at some point. “Mason is a growing community,” he says. “Our plant is designed for 1.5 mgd, but we’re averaging 1.0 to 1.2 mgd now.”

His plans include continuing his involvement with MWEA and WEF, and perhaps becoming a supervisor someday. For now, he is content. “I love this job,” he says. “It’s kind of out of the public eye, but it’s a very huge part of public health.

“I’m always learning something new, and I really like that — it’s never boring, never dull.” His advice to operators just starting out: “If you’re a new guy coming in, listen to the guys who have done it. Never try to think you know everything, because you’re going to learn something every single day.”


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