Enjoys both sides

In response to your column, "Which Side of the Fence?" (TPO, November 2012): As a lifetime career, I have enjoyed both sides of water treatment for almost 38 years. For me, water and wastewater treatment are loved equally well, as each has its own qualities and rewards.

Operations and management of each utility protects the health of the public at large. Both prevent pollution that could cause sickness or even death to humans and animals. The bottom line is that we protect all forms of higher life by working with the most important substance on earth: water.

Gary V. Freeman, CAO

Director of Utilities

Town of Lake Placid, Fla.

Fascinated with wastewater treatment

In response to your column, "Which Side of the Fence?": I work at a wastewater treatment plant, specifically the Fairborn (Ohio) Water Reclamation Center. We changed the name many years ago from the Fairborn Wastewater Treatment Plant to emphasize the more positive aspect of what we do.

Yes, we treat wastewater, but more important, we reclaim "used" water, doing just what would happen in the environment if not for the volume of used water and the concentration of foreign material that society generates. I have never worked on the drinking water side of the equation, so although I recognize its importance, I can't specifically comment.

I am fascinated by my job in that I've learned about the existence of a whole "microverse" of recyclers that keeps renewing the environment for future generations. I will never tire of observing what comes into our system and then walking to the outfall where we discharge to the Mad River and look at the clean water we feed into the river. There are so many variations in what the microlife can do, depending on what comes in, the volume, changes in temperature, and so forth, that it's a continual, fascinating learning process. I am very content to be where I am.

Frank D. Barosky

Technical Supervisor

Fairborn Water Reclamation Center

View from both sides

I hold Ohio Class III Water and Class IV Wastewater Operator certifications and have been in the business for 34 years. I have had these types of conversations several times over the years.

Which side is more mentally challenging and stimulating? There is no doubt about this one — it is wastewater. Groundwater drinking sources are about as boring as it gets. Once the chemical dosages are initially set, daily life becomes quite mundane. Surface water sources are a little more interesting, since the biology in the water body experiences seasonal changes and can create some challenges.

Wastewater, on the other hand, is challenging and stimulating on a daily basis. It requires a much larger skill set and takes much longer to master. Working with a biological living system is a daily challenge, not only due to seasonal changes but also due to varying influent loads and internal recycling of pollutants. It not only requires more extensive monitoring and troubleshooting, but also greater mechanical effort to maintain the roughly three times more equipment than is found in a similar-sized drinking water plant.

Which feels more intrinsically rewarding? The feeling of reward is proportional to the amount of effort and skill required to produce a good product. Need I say more?

Does the public seem to understand and value one side more than the other?

Understandably, it is water. People are familiar with and tuned in to their water, especially the water they drink. While water treatment is also taken for granted by many, it is not nearly as mystical and misunderstood as wastewater treatment.

You can savor a cold drink of water or enjoy a nice warm shower, but when it turns into wastewater, the "nice" quickly goes away. I have given many plant tours over the years, and the people who visit a wastewater plant are truly amazed and sum it up by saying, "I had no idea!" Unfortunately few people take the time to think about wastewater.

I offer you the following: "Bathe in it, drink it, turn turbines with it, flush it, sail on it, freeze it, boil it, process steel and chemicals with it, load it with detergents, dye your hair in it, fill your goldfish bowl with it, do whatever you want with it, but for goodness sake, please clean it up when you're through!" (Author unknown).

Bob Brown


Kent (Ohio) Water Reclamation Facility

Prefers the wastewater side

My primary background is in treatment plant operations (licensed in both water and wastewater). I was later given the added responsibilities of the entire Public Works department, which includes our treatment plants, but I must confess I remain an operator at heart. My enjoyment comes from assisting the staffs with troubleshooting their plants and getting the best pos advantages and disadvantages, as well as enjoyable aspects and headaches.

Personally, I prefer the wastewater end because the bulk of the operations take place outside, and I prefer the opportunity to work outdoors as opposed to the water plant, which in our case is mostly an indoor operation.

I find them both equally rewarding and challenging to be a part of. As far as public perception, "out of sight, out of mind" is what comes to mind. If I try to get funding for a dump truck, everyone knows what function and purpose that truck serves. The challenge comes when you have to try and sell the idea to replace some aspect of the treatment plant that most people have never heard of (such as replacing the screening material for the raw water bar screen).

As long as potable water comes out of the tap and the wastewater goes down the pipe, people largely do not pay much attention, unless their user fees increase. After 25+ years, I am still proud to be a part of this industry, and I am very glad and thankful for the opportunities it has given me.

James E. Didawick

Superintendent of Public Works

Town of Woodstock, Va.

Science plays a part

In response to your question about which career path to choose (water or wastewater), I believe water professionals look at three areas that will decide our direction. The first is the pay. To be honest, we must support our families by having a decent-paying job.

Second, we are looking for a place to feel wanted or part of a team. Water and wastewater treatment is a team sport. We all depend on each other to get the job done. Whether it is drinking water production or reclaiming water for the environment, we all want to feel that we had a part in something bigger than ourselves.

Third, water treatment is the science of chemistry for the most part. Wastewater treatment is the science of biology for the most part. Biology and chemistry are vital parts of each system. However, the way you feel about either science may determine which direction you take. In either case, we love what we do and take pride in the products we produce.

For myself, I enjoy the biological challenges that treating wastewater brings. It changes all the time. Studying microorganisms under a microscope is fascinating. I love watching the motion of the organisms and figuring out how to keep them performing at peak levels. This challenge changes all the time due to many circumstances we may not control as operators. To see a low-pollutant product leaving our facility makes me proud, especially knowing others downstream from us will be using that water for their purposes.

Steven Hardeman, MBA

Utilities Superintendent

Norman (Okla.) Water Reclamation Facility

Big on education

I received my copy of TPO yesterday and noticed our interview was included ("What's Flushable? What Isn't?," December issue). I thank you for including this in your magazine to further spread the word on the issue of non-dispersibles in wastewater.

I also read your column in the same issue ("Driving Home a Simple Point") and feel I must apologize for not adequately describing the educational efforts we at the Portland Water District, and many other utilities, have done and continue to do every day.

We have produced bill stuffers, newspaper articles, cable TV programs, no-flush campaigns in the communities, trade journal articles, technical sessions at training classes, and presentations at regional EPA meetings.

We have updated our websites, worked with local universities to develop topic videos, canvassed neighborhoods, educated business owners, met with municipal representatives, and more. During the legislative process the question of customer education arose, and we produced a 45-page document (double-sided) that included a summary of the communication efforts we at PWD had made over a five-year period.

We agree that education is an important part of the non-dispersibles issue. However, it is only part of the solution. Unfortunately, the response from INDA (association for the disposable wipes industry) has had a similar tone, suggesting utilities need to take on the responsibility to inform customers. To do this, the message has to be consistent.

Our contact with customers and a recent joint marketing focus group highlighted confusion due to our "flush only toilet paper" message and the labeling of products as "flushable" by manufacturers. We also feel a point-of-sale education effort in the retail environment could be a critical component, and we hope to see this in the future.

Any public information campaign has to be consistent, and I do feel our message should be "flush only items that are dispersible, like toilet paper." This could include truly flushable or dispersible products, but this requires coordination with INDA and other manufacturers.

Our legislative efforts, cooperative efforts with INDA, labeling, product design, equipment upgrades, manual intervention, our pump clog SOP, and communication and education are all components of our efforts. Again, my regrets in not highlighting fully the efforts our industry has made and continues to make daily with education, but it is only one tool in the chest as we work to end this interference with our critical sewerage infrastructure.

Thank you,

Scott Firmin

Director of Wastewater Services

Portland (Maine) Water District


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