A Total Team Effort

The South Lyon (Mich.) Clean Water Plant’s exemplary performance depends on excellent operators, progressive city leadership, and a supportive community
A Total Team Effort
Foreman Dave Miller takes a sample from the plant’s Actiflo process.

Interested in Tanks?

Get Tanks articles, news and videos right in your inbox! Sign up now.

Tanks + Get Alerts

The South Lyon Clean Water Plant is animportant line of defense in what the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) classifies as an environmentally sensitive area.

The plant discharges to a tiny creek known as Yerkes Drain, which ultimately feeds the Huron River, a popular stream for wildlife viewing, fishing, canoeing, kayaking, and other recreation along its course to Ann Arbor, 20 miles south.

The plant, upgraded in 2005, consistently puts out what Water and Wastewater Department superintendent Bob Martin calls “spectacular” effluent. For that, he spreads the credit far and wide, beyond his team of operators and support staff.

“Anytime you have an effective plant, it’s not just the function of the superintendent or the workers,” Martin says. “It’s a community-based project. The residents of this city pay for the plant through their water bills. The city council needs to know how to deal with the engineering company to get the best design and the best bang for the dollar. The plant personnel depend on good relationships with their vendors. What we have going here across the board is a team effort. It’s a matter of community pride.”

All the effort and pride were recognized when the Michigan Rural Water Association named South Lyon as Wastewater Utility of the Year for 2011.


All about clean

Martin touts the “clean water” in the treatment plant’s name. “For years, the idea of ‘sewage plant’ or ‘wastewater treatment plant’ has created an adverse image for our industry,” he says. “What we do is take dirty water and make it clean. That’s what our daily task is.”

The South Lyon plant was built in 1979 with a Parshall flume, comminutor, aerated grit removal system, primary settling tanks, three banks of four rotating biological contactors (RBCs), final clarifiers, a traveling bridge sand filter, chlorine disinfection, anaerobic biosolids digestion, and eight biosolids drying beds.

The city completed a major plant upgrade in 2005 to meet tightening permit limits on ammonia nitrogen and phosphorus. The upgrade increased design flow from 1.5 mgd to 2.5 mgd; average daily flow from the community of 11,200 is 1.2 mgd.

Influent passes through an Aqua Guard mechanical bar screen and compactor (Parkson) to a wet well, where five raw sewage pumps raise the flow to a new aerated grit removal system (Walker Process).

Effluent from the grit tank flows by gravity to two aeration basins with the BioLac extended activated sludge process (Parkson). After aeration, alum and polymer are added to the mixed liquor from the aeration basins, which flows by gravity to two secondary clarifiers (Hi-Tech).

Settled solids are pumped from the clarifiers and either returned or wasted to the waste activated sludge storage tank. Secondary effluent is delivered by three Flygt (Xylem) dry-pit submersible pumps to three Actiflo ballasted flocculation tanks (Kruger), then flows by gravity through a WEDECO (Xylem) UV disinfection channel. From there, water flows by gravity to a post-aeration tank and a cascade aerator before discharge. Waste activated sludge is pumped to Hycor rotary drum thickeners (Parkson) before being delivered to the aerobic digesters. Biosolids are land-applied through contracted services.


Ample experience

The plant benefits from a highly experienced team, led by Martin, who came to South Lyon 33 years ago as an operator and lab chemist and assumed his present job in 2002. A Detroit native, he earned a two-year liberal arts degree from Oakland Community College and then a four-year degree in Water and Wastewater Technology from Lake Superior State University in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich.

“I initially enrolled in wildlife conservation and forestry, but I realized early in the game that I would probably need a master’s or a doctorate degree to get into my chosen area of that field, which was being a forest ranger,” Martin says. Along the way, he took water and wastewater classes and came to realize that was his true calling.

Today he holds Class B wastewater and Class D1 water licenses and leads a fully cross-trained team that operates the city’s water and wastewater plants. The most senior team member is foreman David Miller (35 years), who before joining the city worked at Michigan’s Kincheloe Air Force Base (now closed) making deionized water for jets.

The staff also includes plant operators Dennis Bridson (31 years), Ronald Beason (18 years), Andre Randall (15 years), James Ciarmataro (12 years), and Dan Gehringer (3 years); plant custodian Michael Kelly (18 years); and administrative assistant Judy Archey (14 years). Randall and Ciarmataro run the lab, though all operators are qualified to perform the everyday tests.

“We treat our workers well, and they don’t leave us,” says Martin. “That gives us a lot of high-level expertise in treatment. We’re family. Even though technology has entered the field of water and wastewater, this is still predominantly a blue-collar industry. The folks we get requesting work here are people looking for a trade they can learn. We have sold our workers on the fact that they are a major part of the operation. We listen to them and use a lot of their suggestions.”


Always ideas

Never was that more true than during design of the 2005 plant upgrade. “At that time, there were work sessions involving the engineering company and some of our operators,” Martin recalls. “We were constantly tweaking what was done on paper, if we felt that was warranted.

“For example, the engineers took direction from us on the type of bar screen we wanted. We visited different plants and tried to identify the perfect bar screen that would do a good job of removal and also have a very good track record for low maintenance.”

Information sharing is also part of life for the South Lyon team. “On a daily basis during lunch, we discuss what’s going on in the plant, and we all share ideas,” Martin says. “Over the past few years, with the economy the way it is, we have tried to work on lowering our costs.

“One thing we’ve done is micromanage our alum feed to the Actiflo system. I challenged the team to see how low we could go to save on purchasing of alum, but still get the quality treatment we know we can get from this plant.

“Not all scientists walk around with a microscope and a lab coat. We’re scientists every day here, and we don’t necessarily do things with graduated cylinders and burettes. We literally started watching our total P lab analysis and tweaking the alum feed down to see how low it could get before the total P kicked up a little bit.

“We’ve adjusted it to where we now receive four fewer alum shipments a year than we did three years ago. That’s about a 20 percent reduction. Each shipment of alum we eliminate saves about $5,500.”


Looking at energy

Next on the agenda is a close look at the plant’s energy consumption. Recently, the plant received an energy audit from students at Lawrence Technological University in Southfield, Mich. The city has also entered a contract with the Suburban Michigan Regional Energy Office, a partnership of nonprofit organizations that offers tools to help cities become more energy efficient.

That contract involves a $36,000 grant, from funds provided by the Michigan Public Service Commission, for a project to use the treatment plant’s SCADA system (from UIS SCADA of Ypsilanti, Mich.) to monitor energy usage, create baselines, and identify process changes that can lower consumption and costs.

“Our SCADA reads the amps drawn at our blowers and pumps and ties into the DO probes in the aeration basins,” says Martin. “In this way, we are gathering information to help us make logical decisions based on actual numbers and facts.

“With the data we accumulate through historical trending, we will be able, for example, to put in timers to shut the blowers off at certain times of day, so we can maintain the DO level we need without overkill. The same with the wasting pumps and the aeration for our aerobic digesters.

“It will take six to eight months of baseline studies to collect the data we need, but we are conservatively hoping to reduce energy costs by somewhere between 15 and 18 percent through this Energy Alliance grant.”


Stepping up together

Team members also step up to deal with emergencies. “It’s easy to run your plant on a sunny day when everything is fine,” says Martin. “The measure of your team is what happens when things don’t go the way they’re supposed to. Does your team step up?

“We’re here every day from seven in the morning to five at night. When we leave, we put the plant on a dialer system, and if something goes haywire after hours, it calls whoever is on call for the week. You try to train your people to deal with problems.

“Last summer a lightning strike took out our 750 kVA transformer at about 10 o’clock at night. All our guys showed up. We ran the plant on standby power, and within 22 hours we got a new transformer on site and wired into the system so that we could go back on utility power. It’s a measure of how tough and how good your team is when they band together in tough situations.”

The team concept extends to cooperation between city departments. For example, the Public Works crew lends its Vactor combination truck to the treatment plant for tank cleaning when needed. The plant in turn lends its front-end loader for tasks like fall leaf pickup, and plant workers sometimes help Public Works with snow plowing.

In Martin’s view, it all goes back to community pride. “Water and wastewater plants are the most expensive assets a city owns,” he says. “The DEQ has put a lot of pressure on cities in this area because they refer to it as environmentally sensitive. They have mandated sizable upgrades to our wastewater treatment, and the community of South Lyon has never balked at that challenge.

“We have built a state-of-the-art facility that not only cleans the water but makes the entire city very proud of what we discharge.”


Comments on this site are submitted by users and are not endorsed by nor do they reflect the views or opinions of COLE Publishing, Inc. Comments are moderated before being posted.