The Governor Proclaims ...

A Connecticut plant superintendent gets his state’s highest official to proclaim a special day to appreciate wastewater treatment and the people in the profession.
The Governor Proclaims ...
Kevin Shlatz, at the Town of Enfield South River Street pumping station, which high school students are painting to resemble an old Tuscan village. “The pump station is one of our most visible assets, so we try to make it eye-pleasing,” Shlatz says. “It makes for good community relations.”

On the day he started work in May 2011 as a second-shift maintenance foreman at the Town of Enfield (Conn.) Water Pollution Control Facility, Kevin Shlatz got a surprise.

“On the first Monday, the plant superintendent told me, ‘I’m retiring,’ ” Shlatz recalls. “I said, ‘Oh, how long from now?’ He said, ‘On Friday.’

“ ‘Friday when?’

“ ‘This Friday.’ ”

Being the only member of the team with a Class 4 wastewater operator license (the highest level in Connecticut), Shlatz became plant superintendent. Enfield is his fifth clean-water plant — he was an intern at one and an employee at three others, and at age 36 he has been in the profession for 13 years.

At Enfield, Shlatz has taken inventory of the plant’s needs and has come up with a long list of projects. And he has launched a public relations campaign to help build public understanding and support for the money it will take to do what must be done.

As part of that, he secured an official proclamation from the governor, Dannel Malloy, recognizing May 22, 2013, as Wastewater Treatment Appreciation Day. Shlatz talked about his facility’s challenges and his public outreach efforts in an interview with Treatment Plant Operator.

TPO: Why have you found it necessary to reach out to the public?

Shlatz: As people in our profession know, we’re the unseen heroes. I’ve been trying to get the attention of our town officials and have been looking at every way to do it. We need to be recognized because the plant needs work and we need resources.

I wanted to make our voice heard. I invited our local Water Pollution Control Board, which is also our Town Council, to come in for a tour. We gave them a packet and said, “These are all the projects we need to get done.” We need approximately $30 million to $40 million worth of work.

That was step one. The second step has been public relations to let people know we’re here, in case we have to go to referendum for the funds we need. We want to tell people, “Hey, we’re here, and this is what we do.” I know people think they flush the toilet and that’s it, but obviously there’s a little more to it.

TPO: What are some of the major projects that need attention?

Shlatz: We’re meeting our permit. The plant was originally designed for 10 mgd with conventional treatment. Our average flow is 5 to 5.5 mgd. But most of our equipment is 40-plus years old. We’re looking at doing a series of major projects or doing the whole thing at once.

We need clarifier drive rehabilitation, new solids-processing equipment and some new buildings. We need work done on our aeration tanks and some of the monitoring equipment. We also have 16 pump stations in the system that are in the 40-year-old range that need to be rehabbed. We have three ejector pump stations that are older than I am, and they have seen better days.

TPO: Besides the tour for local officials, what public relations activities have you undertaken so far?

Shlatz: We set up a booth at the town’s Earth Day observance in April 2012, and at the town’s Family Fun Day last September. We have a banner that says Enfield Water Pollution Control, and we hung it on a 4-by-8-foot table. We had an Imhoff cone test set up, along with a microscope and a settleometer.

The kids enjoy it the most. They can handle a sample of biosolids in a bag, and they get to see a sample of mixed liquor. They say, “What’s in there?” I show them pictures of the bugs on a laptop and say, “There are probably about a billion bugs in there.” They think that’s pretty cool. We use the Imhoff cone test to show people what we do: After they flush, the water comes to us looking like this; it goes through the treatment process and by the time it goes out to the river, it looks like that.

TPO: About how many people did you speak to at these events?

Shlatz: For Earth Day, 50 to 100 visitors. At the town festival, probably about 150. Some people are interested and want to talk to you. Others are like, “Who are you?” Some people said, “Well, my water bill is high. Why is that?” And I said, “I’m not the water company.” It’s a challenging process. We’re working on it slowly.

TPO: What else are you doing to reach out to the public?

Shlatz: We’re trying to get our website up. That has been one of our biggest projects. We’re really trying to do more because we’re going through a rate study right now. We hope to give tours on a more regular basis, either on Friday or Saturday mornings, so people can come on in and see where their money is going.

TPO: How did you go about getting a proclamation from the governor?

Shlatz: I read an article in a national public works magazine, and one thing it said to do for National Public Works Week [May 19-25] was get a proclamation from your town council or the state. So we got one from the town.

For the governor’s proclamation, I didn’t have to pull any political strings. You just go to the governor’s Web page and they have a link for requesting a proclamation. I asked for it to be issued for the Wednesday of Public Works Week, which was May 22. And they said, OK. They came up with the wording — they may have worked on it with the Department of Environmental Protection. We received the proclamation about two months later.

TPO: How did you use this proclamation to help generate interest in your facility and the clean-water profession?

Shlatz: We involved our state association, the Connecticut Wastewater Pollution Abatement Association. They have a leadership management program, and last month the topic was communication. I gave a presentation on what we could do for Wastewater Treatment Appreciation Day. They pushed the idea with other towns.

TPO: Did the Town of Enfield have a plant tour that day?

Shlatz: Yes. We promoted it at Earth Day, in the paper, and we had a 4-by-12-foot banner on our fence. The Town Council also promoted it at their meetings.

Representatives from our engineering firm were here for the tour. Our lab station had a live microscope shot of the bugs. Our microscope has a camera built in, and we projected the picture up on a whiteboard. We worked with neighboring towns to try and get tours set up at the same time, so if people wanted to visit one plant, they could also go see another. We also did an operators’ breakfast for our staff that morning, so we could treat those guys and show them some appreciation.

TPO: Do you have any other thoughts to share about the importance of public outreach for the clean-water profession?

Shlatz: Just keep yourself in the limelight. Teachers, fire departments and police departments do it every day — that’s why they get the funding. I definitely like to be among the quiet ones, but we need to make ourselves more visible. A lot of people don’t like doing that, but with the tight economy it’s just a fact of life: If you’re the quiet one, you’re not going to get anything.


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