Growing as Partners

St. Charles operators meet the challenges of two major plant upgrades designed to meet population growth demands and protect two famous rivers.
Growing as Partners
Kendall Coleman, American Water facilities manager in St. Charles.

Interested in Treatment?

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

Treatment + Get Alerts

The Missouri River and Mississippi River waste-water treatment plants in St. Charles, Mo., have been challenged to keep up with residential and commercial development in one of the nation's fastest growing areas. Both are going through major upgrades to better serve the city and its 66,000 residents for the next 20 years.

Begun in 2010, the improvements to the two activated sludge plants are making life interesting for the facilities' 14 team members. "Our biggest concerns are keeping enough equipment in operation, meeting effluent quality, and working with the multiple contractors and design engineers on site," says facilities manager Kendall Coleman.

Operations chief Todd Van Voorhis adds, "Since construction is ongoing, it is sometimes hard to find out which vendor to go to for help. For example, the SCADA vendor is in Texas, so we have to troubleshoot by phone and online."

The upgrades also spell changes to the process. Both plants are switching from chlorine to UV disinfection. Biosolids will be landfilled rather than land applied, changing some operators' duties. Even with these challenges, the staff has excelled, winning the Missouri Water Environment Association (MWEA) Biosolids Award for large facilities in 2010, and MWEA Safety Award for large facilities in 2011.

Public-private partnership

The upgrade of the 26-year-old Missouri facility, started up in July 2012, increased the design capacity from 5 mgd to 7.5 mgd. The 50-year-old Mississippi plant's upgrade will increase capacity from 6.25 to 9.6 mgd and is to be completed in June 2013.

"Some of the old, deteriorated equipment was replaced in earlier upgrades," says Coleman. "For example, the secondary treatment process at the Missouri River plant never performed properly during the winter months, so in 1992 we did an upgrade to meet the required permit limits." The upgrade consisted of a new external final clarifier and a Fine Air aeration system (Sanitaire).

Environmental Management Corporation (EMC), a part of the American Water Contract Services Group, operates and maintains both plants through one of the nation's oldest public-private partnerships, started in 1984. EMC also operates and maintains the city's 19 lift stations and handles the industrial pretreatment program, the fats, oil and grease (FOG) reduction program, and the water treatment plant's lime residual.

Renewable every five years, the agreement guarantees effluent quality and regulatory compliance at both wastewater facilities, and on-call backup operations expertise around the clock. The partnership has saved the city significant money in operating and capital investment costs (EMC did not disclose the amount).

Operator input

The operations and maintenance staff sat in on meetings with the design engineers to offer input on equipment and vendors for the upgrades.

"The city hired EMC as the project manager early in the upgrade planning process," says Coleman. "In June 2007, project manager Jim Solari moved his office to the Mississippi River plant to ensure direct involvement between the city, operations, the design engineer and contract personnel."

One of Solari's responsibilities was to make sure the operators' equipment preferences were included during the project's design and construction phase. Van Voorhis is also heavily involved with various daily meetings and discussions about the Mississippi plant's construction. "We're trying to use existing structures and processes as much as possible to reduce costs," he says.

More efficient

The switch from chlorine to UV disinfection will allow the plants to comply with U.S. EPA and Missouri Department of Natural Resources requirements for more stringent bacteria removal. "The UV system [TrojanUV] will provide more efficient disinfection, will be safer for operations personnel, and will eliminate the risk of an accidental release of chlorine from the facility," says Coleman. "It will also eliminate the discharge of disinfection byproducts."

The Missouri River plant's $19 million upgrade also includes:

New headworks with combined fine screening and grit removal (Andritz)Conversion of the secondary treatment process to disk aeration (Siemens Water Technologies) and removal of the in-line boat clarifiersNew final clarifier and rebuilt existing final clarifier (Walker Process)Two new biosolids centrifuges (Andritz)

The Mississippi River plant's $25 million upgrade includes:

New fine screening (Andritz) and improvements to existing grit removal facilitiesInstallation of a diffused air system for aerating the influent/return activated sludge before discharge to secondary treatment processIncreasing the volume of existing aeration basinsAddition of a sixth aeration basin with Sanitaire aeration equipmentNew final clarifier (Walker Process)New ultraviolet disinfection (Trojan)New sludge-thickening facility with two gravity belt thickeners (Andritz)New SCADA monitoring and control system

Also under way is the Adams Street lift station, force main and sewer line rehabilitation project, to be completed in spring 2013.

New skills

Some technologies used in the upgrades, such as the UV, centrifuges and SCADA, are new to the plants' operators, even those who have been in the business for a while. "The SCADA was the biggest challenge for the operators to learn, since those don't always work as expected in the early stages," says Coleman. "False alarms are common, and when you are dealing with new processes and equipment, it can be challenging to troubleshoot and correct things."

Adds Van Voorhis, "The design engineers say we have to set a pump at a certain hertz, but then we have to fine-tune where it should be set according to our actual flow. For example, if we have heavy rains or have to change the settings on our screening system to get rid of debris."

In addition, since the biosolids will now be hauled to a local landfill by operations staff, the operators must get commercial driver's licenses. "This presented a challenge for several of our staff, as some were hesitant to take this on," says Coleman. "Management and labor were able to work out an agreement to ensure that the task is handled efficiently and that only individuals interested in performing that job will be required to do it."

The operations residual coordinator, Warren Weber (Class C wastewater license, 20 years with EMC), previously spent 70 percent of his time working with the land application program. He will now focus on operating the new dewatering equipment and overseeing the shipment to the landfill.

Versatile team

Three operators each are assigned to the Missouri and Mississippi plants, including operations chiefs Gary Heggemeyer (Class B, 37 years) and Van Voorhis (Class A, 16 years). All operators are cross-trained in laboratory and maintenance procedures.

The maintenance mechanics perform preventive maintenance and repairs at both facilities and the 19 lift stations. Laboratory technician Steve Botch (Class A, 13 years), based at the Mississippi plant, oversees quality control/quality assurance testing and operation monitoring reports. He also assists with developing standard operating procedures.

Pretreatment coordinator Steve Schweitzer (Class A, 35 years) is responsible for the industrial pretreatment program, which includes regulating significant industrial users' discharge to the sewer system. Those dischargers include a uniform laundry service, a metal finishing plant, and a groundwater reclamation site.

Schweitzer also oversees the FOG program, implemented in 2003. Part of his job is to make sure grease traps are installed at all industrial and commercial sites. He also assists with environmental compliance obligations required by state and federal agencies. Other team members are:

Operator/safety coordinator Matthew Laugeman (Class A, 10 years)Class A operators Robert Lembeck (8 years), Robert Lippincott (11 years) and Larry Shy (11 years)Maintenance chief Mick Settles (Class A, 34 years), and maintenance mechanics John Leffeler (Class A, 41 years), Joe Hewitt (Class B, 12 years) and David Johnston (1 year)

"We have guys going back and forth between plants, so they have to be versatile in performing different jobs on a day-to-day basis," says Van Voorhis. "That can be a challenge, especially with the ongoing construction at both facilities."

Highlighting the positive

The plants and their operators have won various awards over the years. Settles, Heggemeyer and Leffeler have received Missouri Water & Wastewater Conference (MWWC) Operator of the Year awards.

The MWWC East Central section awarded Heggemeyer the 2011 Kramer Award after he was nominated by his coworkers. The award goes to those who exemplify high standards through technical self-improvement, loyalty, integrity and trustworthy service to the profession. The Missouri River plant won the MWEA Plant of the Year in 2007.

"We won these awards because we have a great staff with 350 years of collective experience," says Coleman. "The old plants didn't work all that well, and the staff had to stay extra focused on safety, effluent quality and the community. It's not an easy job or a pleasant job. I mean, most people in the community don't say, 'Let's take a trip to the wastewater treatment plant today.' "

Coleman sees awards as a way to keep employees motivated and to reward their efforts. "People can get into a mode of only discussing problems and issues, but it's just as important to highlight the positive, so I nominate my staff for awards," he says.

Managing change

Operators at both plants will continue to face challenges as the upgraded plants start up. "Things won't necessarily be easier with the new equipment," says Coleman. "Some old challenges will go away, but there will be new ones. I am confident that the staff will manage it and solve it their way."

Managing change is one of Coleman's strengths. "I went through change management training with EMC, so I'm pretty good at adapting to and managing this type of thing," he says. He also needs to find experienced operations staff to replace several team members who will retire in the next five years.

Coleman continually reminds his staff to focus on three main objectives: safety, effluent quality and the customer. "We want everyone to go home the same way they came to work, with no accidents or injuries," he says. "Our job is to ensure that everyone has clean water for consumption and recreation, and that we have to continuously provide the most cost-effective operation possible. If we do these things well, everything else will take care of itself."


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.