Quiet Competence

Loxahatchee district’s chief operator Gary McClure gets the job done consistently while spreading the credit to his managers and his team.
Quiet Competence

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You'd never know it from his quiet voice and thoughtful manner, but Gary McClure is a take-charge guy who keeps things working as they should at the Loxahatchee River Environmental Control District wastewater treatment facility in Jupiter, Fla. That includes leading by example, rolling up his sleeves, and seeing to it that people and equipment are top-notch.

Yet McClure, a nine-year plant veteran with three decades of water treatment experience, disdains accolades, even when he's called a hero for saving an employee's life (see sidebar). He stays focused on the task at hand.

"We've got an excellent management team and, as far as I'm concerned, the best operators and technicians in the business," says McClure, the plant's chief operator. "I'm just a guy down here on the ground level making sure everything gets done right."

He has taken that attitude since he started in 1975 at a new wastewater treatment plant in Boca Raton. A year later, he became certified as a water treatment plant operator, one of the first in the state to be licensed. For the next 25 years, McClure owned a package plant utility business for Gold Coast Utilities. Then he joined the Loxahatchee River District facility as an operator; he became chief operator five years ago.

True recycling

"In this job, I supervise 18 people," says McClure. "Beyond that, I'm pretty much responsible for process control and plant maintenance. That takes in quite a bit."

Indeed. McClure and his team ensure the quality of the facility's effluent. The plant produces irrigation quality (IQ) water for reuse systems. Built in 1978, the plant takes all influent from Jupiter, Juno Beach and Tequesta and processes about 90 percent of it back into the ecosystem, irrigating area golf courses, parks and residential communities.

"We preserve the drinking water supply by returning treated water to the environment," McClure says. "We recycle all our waste sludge to a pelletizing facility in Palm Beach, where it's bagged and sold as fertilizer. And we convert our wastewater and make IQ water out of it. We even recycle our own plastics, cans, boxes and so on."

Many capabilities

That's only part of the Loxahatchee River District story. McClure proudly calls it "a model system in South Florida." For one thing, it's divided into many divisions — collections, operations and construction — which handle pretty much everything related to wastewater treatment. For another, it's a multi-faceted organization involved in education and ecosystem protection.

Facilities include a training center at Burt Reynolds State Park, an environmental center offering educational programs for the public, and the Bush Wildlife Center, located in the district compound, which takes in injured animals (native species), rehabilitates them, and releases them back into the wild. The district also runs an independent lab that does marine biology and water quality research.

Situated on a 160-acre site that encompasses four reuse lakes and two containment (stabilization) ponds, the Loxahatchee River District collection system includes 650 low-pressure pumping units, 195 pumping stations, and 584,000 feet of major force mains serving a population of 55,000.

IQ Water is delivered through a network of reuse lines with more than 30 miles of 4- to 24-inch force mains. The recycled water is treated and disinfected to meet the exacting standards of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Public Health Department and has a moderate nitrogen level, beneficial to the grass it is used to water.

McClure, 60, commutes an hour from Fort Pierce, arrives about 6:30 every morning and works until 4 p.m. His duties include significant oversight responsibility: If he wanted to, he could spend most of his time at a computer. But he likes to get out in the field and work with the operators and make sure they're doing the job right and following safety protocols.

Hands-on style

Even during the hottest days of a Sunshine State summer, you'll find McClure making sure his team has what they need to do the job efficiently and safely, and lending a hand when needed — a quality his operators appreciate. "Gary's great to work with," says Tom Cavanaugh, safety and compliance officer, who has been at the plant for four years. "Some bosses like to keep secrets to enhance their power. Not Gary. He'll share everything he knows with anyone, whether it's electrical, pumps, filters, you name it."

For example, during an expansion, the plant went from a pure-oxygen to a forced-air process and became the first site in Florida to get prototype upflow filters (Schreiber) with a synthetic fiber media.

Treated effluent is moved through the filters by vertical turbine pumps (Gould/Layne Bowler). Each filter has an automatic backwash cycle: When the pressure reaches a certain level, the backwash is activated. The filters encompass a small footprint in proportion to the flow they treat.

"Gary learned all about our new synthetic-media filters and shared that knowledge with the operators," says Cavanaugh. "He really leads by example and makes our jobs easier."

As usual, McClure dismisses the praise and, in fact, turns it around. "In my opinion, we have the best operators in the business, as well as highly skilled computer specialists, a first-rate Collection and Construction Division, a superb engineering team, and highly skilled office personnel that tie it all together," he says. "We're a top-notch organization that sets the standard for the state when it comes to wastewater treatment."

Training and education

One reason is McClure's focus on training, including in-house programs to cross-train operators in maintenance and process control. Not many facilities in the state do that. "Operators need to know the entire system — how it works and how to repair it, particularly since we do 90 percent of our own maintenance," says McClure. "We want everyone to know how everything works and how to maintain all systems."

Loxahatchee River has a training facility built for that purpose. According to McClure, it's a testament to the priority the district puts on professional development. That also includes designating a significant portion of the budget for education and a commitment to stay at the cutting edge in the wastewater industry, McClure observes.

As a result, operators have skills in welding, fabricating, mechanics and other specialties — they can do almost anything. If an operator is weak in a given area, management can send him to school or to training on site.

Training might cover using the SCADA system to control plant operations and systems, electronically filing Discharge Monitoring Reports (DMRs), and keeping tabs on computerized plant monitoring systems that allow state regulators to see what is happening in real time.

"We're learning new things every day, and my learning curve is pretty steep," McClure admits. "Even after all these years, there are still new things to learn. You can't learn too much; you never get there."

And things keep moving forward. Right now, the district is putting up telemetry towers that will enable all of its work trucks to have SCADA computers that tell them the status of the lift stations they're servicing on any given day. That way they'll know where the trouble spots are and will be able to respond in a timely manner. The facility uses a maintenance software system (Infor EAM MP2) that generates work orders for all the equipment.

Safety and awards

Besides operating efficiently and effectively, the Loxahatchee River District treatment plant has an excellent safety record. A certificate shows 278,026 employee hours worked without a lost-time occupational injury or illness — extending from January 2009 to January 2011. The facility has racked up numerous awards for contributions to the water industry. They include:

2011 Florida Department of Environmental Protection Domestic Wastewater Treatment Plant Award for excellence in operations.2011 WateReuse Award from the WateReuse Association for advancement of water reuse and innovative applications for reclaimed water.2011 Florida Water Environment Association David W. York Award for Water Reuse System of the Year in the 5 to 15 mgd category.U.S. EPA 1995 National Award for Outstanding Wastewater Facility for innovative and safe wastewater treatment.1995 Florida Water Environment Association Earle B. Phelps Award for Best Advanced Secondary Treatment.

The district has also won numerous awards for educating the public in ecosystems and conservation.

McClure, married 41 years with four kids and nine grandchildren, takes it all in stride. "I like the work here because it's very rewarding knowing that I play a small part in protecting our local ecosystems and providing an invaluable service to the community," he says. "We're a team, and what we do requires a team effort. It requires diligence and requires everyone doing their job to the best of their ability. I try to help us do that."



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