Picky, Picky!

Lessons from his father helped Tony Foster shape up a small lagoon treatment plant in a central Illinois community
Picky, Picky!
Maintenance workers Vince Albert and Robbie Curtis, shown installing a fence post, are part of a plant team that tackles a wide variety of tasks.

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If his dad hadn’t been a wastewater plantsuperintendent, Tony Foster might not have taken the job at the Heyworth (Ill.) Sanitary Treatment Plant back in 2000.

Verdant trees were sprouting from the sand filters; the fence surrounding the property did little to keep trespassers out; gophers were eating their way through the underground electrical systems; septic sludge islands floated up from the depths of the raw zone lagoon, resulting in offensive springtime odors; and the filing system consisted of stuffing paperwork into any drawer that might still have room.

“My dad taught me to take pride in my work and always do my best,” Foster recalls. “He was the superintendent at Ladd, Ill., and he was very picky — an admirable trait that he passed on to me.” Within months of signing on at Heyworth in 2000, Foster was named superintendent of wastewater, water and streets.

With encouragement and advice from EPA inspector Joe Koronkosky of the Champaign office, he began improving the treatment plant, and last year it was named small plant of the year by the Illinois Rural Water Association.

“Joe helped me tremendously with deficiencies that had been going on for some time before my appointment,” Foster remembers. “He went out of his way to answer my questions and give me guidance on how to correct those issues.”

Community service

Heyworth is a bedroom community of about 2,800 people in the heart of Illinois. The municipal collection system delivers about 300,000 gpd through two lift stations equipped with Fairbanks Morse pumps and USEMCO control panels. Both lift stations have Cummins/Onan emergency backup generators.

At the plant, the flow is treated in a simple gravity-flow three-cell rectangular lagoon system. In the first cell, or “raw zone,” eight floating aerators supplied by AEROMIX, with control panels from Aquascape, add oxygen and mix the contents. The aerators operate for various periods depending on dissolved oxygen levels in the lagoon.

Biological treatment continues in the second cell, and the third cell polishes the effluent before it is discharged to a dosing tank where chlorine used to be added (the plant now has a chlorine exemption from the Illinois EPA). The water cascades between cells two and three, and cell three and the dosing tank, adding oxygen as it moves through the system.

Finally, Hydromatic (Pentair) submersible pumps move the flow to a pair of 6- to 8-foot-deep sand filter beds, which operate on an alternating basis to remove remaining suspended solids. Effluent, averaging less than 4 mg/l TSS and BOD, is discharged through a subsurface outfall into Kickapoo Creek.

The Heyworth staff cleans the sand filters about twice each year. Sludge accumulates in the raw zone, dropping to the bottom during the spring and fall turnover when the water temperature changes. The material requires periodic dredging and removal, although Foster and his operational team have not had to do that yet.

While Foster’s wastewater, water, and street department employs eight people, the treatment plant requires a minimum of attention. Foster or another staff member check on the operation three times a day — morning, lunchtime and afternoon.

Quick improvements

Before joining Heyworth, Foster had worked in a water treatment plant and a cement plant. Just six months after his arrival, improvements to the Heyworth plant began in earnest.

“We started by uprooting and removing the trees and weeds from the sand filters,” he recalls. “Then we removed the top layer of sand from the filters, using shovels and elbow grease. We applied for and obtained a land application permit before spreading the waste sand and bringing in new filter sand.”

Additional housekeeping improved the plant’s performance and appearance, and Foster incorporated all those stray pieces of paper into a filing system so that the information required for reports could be more easily located. But he and his staff didn’t stop there.

They repaired the fence around the property line and replaced the gopher-ravaged copper-wire electrical system with all new lines, this time protected inside a plastic conduit. They upgraded the main control panel and added fuse disconnects. “We put in new effluent monitoring equipment, too,” Foster says. “It was really antiquated when I started here.”

Foster and his staff have become experts of sorts in the use of enzymes to improve treatment. Working with the biotech company AQUAFIX, they have installed an enzyme addition system that reduces odors and keeps sludge from going septic. “When I came here, we had maybe six to eight inches of raw sludge bubbling up on the surface of the raw zone,” Foster says.

Using a “polar” enzyme during cold weather, and a standard enzyme at other times, Heyworth has solved that problem, and as a bonus, sludge settles better. “We add about a half a pound a day,” Foster explains.

Heyworth also uses enzymes from AQUAFIX to attack grease in its sewer system. “It helps when we put grease-eating enzymes in problem areas,” Foster says. “We do it every spring. We used to use acid but found that it could damage the sewers, and at times it had an adverse effect on our biological system at the plant.”

Heyworth also works with Rewesewer Drain Cleaning of Bloomington-Normal to jet the collection system every year. “I’ve found it is better to be proactive and find possible future problems before they are serious problems of raw sewage backing up in homes of residents,” Foster says.

Color it clean

The plant team uses a simple approach to monitor the quality of the water being treated. “We do that by just being very observant of the color,” Foster says. “We pay attention to the color of the water as it flows from lagoon to lagoon. If it looks iffy, we retest in a week or two.”

Although it has a laboratory on site, Heyworth sends its samples to a certified laboratory in Peoria. “We determined a number of years ago that there would be considerable cost savings by having an outside certified laboratory run monthly samples,” Foster says. “We use our plant lab only for operational sampling.”

The maintenance program involves common sense. Foster and his team keep all rotating equipment clean and well-greased. “We run our aerators long enough to reach our treatment goals, but not too much so that we have overkill on energy consumption,” Foster says. “In today’s economy it’s all about saving every dime possible.”

Foster holds an Illinois Class 3 wastewater license and encourages his staff members to attend training sessions and continuing education classes and work toward certification. “We’re spread thin here, and we try to get the most out of our guys,” he says. “I’d like to upgrade my license further, but it takes time to learn a new process. That’s one of the tough things about being in a small town.”

But Foster wouldn’t trade places with anyone. “I am very highly motivated about doing my job,” he says. “We try to make this place a nice little town to live in. When I started here some of the village residents had a negative view of our crew. We’ve helped change that, and I think the workers appreciate it.

“I now see that my father had a reason for teaching me the way he did, and I have come to appreciate that more and more as I and my career age.”


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