Focused On Achievement

Dusty Martin has built a rewarding career by furthering his education, enhancing his skills and inspiring those around him.
Focused On Achievement
Dusty Martin, left, operations supervisor, serves as a mentor to team members like Derrek Martin, water treatment plant operator, at the Jones Ferry Road Water Treatment Plant.

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William “Dusty” Martin is a man on a mission: to interest young people in careers in water. In his role as operations supervisor at the Orange Water and Sewer Authority (OWASA) Jones Ferry Road Water Treatment Plant in Carrboro, N.C., he wants them to know water is a good career path, with opportunities for personal growth and recognition.

Martin should know: He has spent his professional life expanding his knowledge and competencies. “I started at a small 1 mgd plant in Lee County that mainly provided water for a chicken processor,” says Martin, who has been in the water industry for 21 years and in his current role for six.

Of course, his primary mission is to deliver high-quality water to community residents — and he and his team of operators do that well. As part of OWASA’s membership in the Partnership for Safe Water, Martin and colleagues have driven finished water turbidity down to extremely low levels. They do it with a combination of old-fashioned teamwork and current treatment technology.

Humble start

Martin got started in the water industry after a decade as an emergency medical technician. “The head operator took a chance on me, and I really liked it,” he recalls. “Back then, you could work without being certified, but I wanted to do more. I went to school, got my certifications in water treatment and distribution and wastewater treatment and collection systems, and moved up.”

He became an operator at the Cary/Apex Water Treatment Plant and was promoted to water system operator, responsible for both the distribution piping and the treatment plant. In 2001, he took over as water distribution supervisor in Chatham County and managed daily operations of the water treatment plant.

From 2004 to 2007, he was water treatment plant superintendent for the Town of Siler City, and since April of 2007 he has overseen operations and seven operators at OWASA’s 20 mgd Jones Ferry Road plant, serving Carrboro, Chapel Hill and the University of North Carolina.

With his personal drive and commitment to providing clean drinking water to 80,000 people, Martin is determined to help attract the next generation of operators. Through plant tours for high school and college students, teaching at operator schools sponsored by the North Carolina Waterworks Operator Association (NCWOA) and presenting at its seminars, Martin delivers a clear message: water is a great career choice.

Attracting the young

“A lot of operators I know are beginning to get up in age, which is why we’re working on bringing more young people into the business,” Martin says. “We tell them ‘Everybody drinks water; everybody needs water.’ Over the years, the pay has gotten better and the benefits are excellent, so we encourage them to get into this industry, where you can make a difference and make a name for yourself.”

Martin certainly has built his own reputation. He received the 2012 A-Surface Operator of the Year award from the NCWOA. A-Surface is the state’s highest certification for operating plants that treat water from a lake or stream. He also leads the treatment plant team that in May 2011 earned the Partnership for Safe Water’s Excellence in Water Treatment Phase IV Award — the ninth facility in the nation and first in the state to do so.

“I tell the young people I talk to: Here’s something you can shoot for that will not only make you look good and make your operators a more cohesive team but will also allow your customers to see what you’re doing to make the water better,” Martin says.

Building by listening

When it comes to team building, Martin is a standout, according to the operators. Most of them are A-Surface rated, and one, a former meter reader, is a trainee now working toward getting Grade A certification.

“Dusty is real good to work for; he pretty much gives us free rein to do what we want [to get the desired result],” says operator Jaime Barajas, who has worked at the Jones Ferry Road plant for three years. “If we have trouble, he helps us, and he listens to us.”

Nine-year plant veteran Terry Burkhart echoes that sentiment: “If you have an idea about something that will improve a process or the way we do something, Dusty’s attitude is ‘Go ahead, test it and try it.’ ”

One example was a program to reduce turbidity. Normally, the finished water turbidity limit is 0.3 NTU, but because of OWASA’s participation in the Partnership for Safe Water, the limit is 0.1 NTU.

Martin and his team decided to shoot for 0.06 NTU. They set alarm limits for the plant’s gravity dual-media filters (sand and anthracite coal), so that if turbidity reaches 0.09 NTU, the filter goes out of service, and the operator prepares a filter excursion report to determine why turbidity rose. If the reason can’t be found, the team runs a filter assessment. The result has been lower turbidity and few, if any, filter problems.

Martin shrugs, “They know they can come to me with ideas for making the plant more efficient or producing better-quality water and I’ll work with them to make that happen. I have some of the absolute best operators I’ve ever worked with here, and I trust them completely in running the plant and putting out the best water possible.”

Producing quality

How good is the water produced by the Jones Ferry Road plant? Martin says it’s the best he has seen in his 21 years as a water professional.

Raw water comes from two primary reservoirs in the 32-square-mile Cane Creek watershed and the 30-square-mile University Lake watershed. The University Lake reservoir, which goes back to the 1930s, has a capacity of 450 million gallons. Cane Creek Reservoir, which OWASA built in the early 1990s, holds 3 billion gallons.

OWASA also owns the Quarry Reservoir, an emergency backup supply with a 209-million-gallon capacity, and is expanding it to add 3 billion gallons of capacity by 2030. The agency also has an allocation of 5 percent of the water supply from Jordan Lake, which can yield 5 to 6 mgd. Jordan Lake will become increasingly important in case of severe drought or some other emergency until the expanded Quarry Reservoir is on line.

Drawing from two sources, with a third in the offing, gives Martin and his team flexibility to choose one reservoir or another to maintain quality. Plants that draw from a single river don’t have that luxury, as heavy rains can have big impact on source quality.

Good technology, good people

The Jones Ferry Road plant itself uses a dual treatment process to ensure quality finished water. The University of North Carolina built the plant in the 1940s and operated it until 1977, when OWASA was formed and took over water and wastewater operations.

The plant has expanded over the years and is one of few water plants in the state to use both conventional sedimentation and Superpulsator clarifiers (Infilco Degremont), added in 1988. The Superpulsator pushes the flocculated water up through a sludge blanket that absorbs the flocculated particles; the water clarifies and is drawn off at the top.

As the sludge blanket thickens, it spills into concentrators and is removed to the plant’s solids-handling facility. Solids run over a belt press and are sent to a facility that makes landscape-grade compost. Jones Ferry Road is one of two plants in the state that recycles all of its process water back to the headworks so that, as Martin says, “We don’t have to discharge our processed water into a stream and have someone else handle it.”

Drinking water is pumped from the Jones Ferry Road plant through a system of about 400 miles of pipe and water storage tanks. It’s all designed and operated to deliver an adequate volume of water at sufficient pressures to meet customer demand and provide adequate flow for fire protection.

Technology aside, Ken Loflin, water supply and treatment manager, credits Martin and his team with keeping the plant running smoothly and providing excellent water to the community. Martin, in fact, replaced him as operations supervisor when the previous plant manager retired and Loflin was promoted.

“Dusty is an excellent employee and great to work with,” says Loflin, an OWASA employee for nine years. “If you ask him to do something, he’ll get it done in a timely manner, and he always does it well. He cares about his job and doesn’t have to be watched over because he’s completely self-motivated. From a management standpoint, he does a great job; his operators like and respect him.”

Ready for anything

In typical fashion, Martin deflects such praise and points out that he’s just doing his job. “I come in at 8 a.m. and the first thing I do is check with my operators to see if there’s anything strange going on or anything I can help them with,” he says.

“Then I go about my day, checking chemical inventories, making orders, preparing our monthly report to the state. I’m also responsible for our wastewater permit. Even though we recycle all our process water, we still have to have a wastewater discharge permit, in case there’s an emergency and we have to discharge it.”

Other than a drought in 2007-08 that left reservoirs at 38 percent capacity, Martin has had few crises to handle in recent years. He stays plenty busy managing the treatment plant’s day-to-day operations. A graduate of Lee County High School, he is married and has two sons, one age 27 with his own business and the other 13, attending a charter school in Siler City and dreaming of going to Duke University.

Eye on talent

Martin also chairs the North Piedmont Section of the NCWOA and serves its executive committee. He also teaches water and wastewater courses around the state, always looking for young talent.

Finding promising operators has been difficult because in the past, to work alone at a plant, an operator needed at least a C-Surface certification. Now NCWOA and the North Carolina Water Treatment Facility Operators Certification Board have begun developing an apprentice-level grade. That means an entry-level person could go to school, take the C-Surface exam and, upon passing, get an apprentice license. He or she would then need only six months’ experience to become a certified operator.

Says Martin proudly, “We think it’s a great way to attract people to water plants such as ours because they know they will be certified once they get the six months experience — that’s my goal.”


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