Working Both Streams

Bari Wrubel’s experience, education and timing put him in the right place to become supervisor of the wastewater and water treatment plants in Marysville, Mich.

Working Both Streams
Bari Wrubel, wastewater and water treatment plant supervisor, Marysville, Mich. (Photography by Jeffrey Sauger)

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The story of Bari Wrubel proves that hard work early on can still pay off. Wrubel is the supervisor of the 3.6 mgd (average) wastewater treatment plant and the 9 mgd water treatment plant in Marysville, Mich. Nearly 20 years ago, he thought he wanted to be a mechanical engineer.

“When I graduated from high school, I took a summer job at the city,” he recalls. “At that time, I was planning on going to the local community college to take two years and then transfer to Oakland University for my degree. But when I worked that first summer, I started realizing that city work is a pretty decent way to go.” He worked at the wastewater plant over three summers.

Wrubel recalls that his father, a foreman at the city Department of Public Works, was able to take the family on vacations. “I knew we had a decent and secure life with his wage,” he says. “Even at 18 years old, I knew that job security was a huge thing.”

In his water career, Wrubel knew from the start that he wanted to be more than an operator. Besides ascending to supervisor of the treatment plants, he is an active member of the Michigan Water Environment Association, which honored him with the 2013 Public Utility Management Professional of the Year award. He also chairs the Huron to Erie Drinking Water Protection Network, which coordinates a near-real-time monitoring and notification system for possible spills or issues upstream.

Change of course

In his second year at St. Clair County Community College, Wrubel changed to an associate degree program in water purification. He completed basic courses at St. Clair and spent one year at Bay de Noc Community College in Escanaba, Mich., for the required specialty classes. “They have a great Water Resource Management program,” he says.

Most students finish in two years and then write their lowest level exams for water filtration, water distribution and wastewater treatment licensing.

With his Michigan Wastewater D, Filtration F-4 and Distribution S-4 licenses and four summers of wastewater experience, he hired on with the City of Charlevoix as an operator at the water and wastewater treatment plants. The winter of 1995 was cold. “Charlevoix is a beautiful city in northern Michigan, but I was there the whole winter, and I just couldn’t adapt to the colder weather and increased amount of snow,” Wrubel says.

By then, he had gained experience that served him well. When he heard hints of a position opening at Marysville, he made plans to return to his hometown. Within a few months, he was hired full time, and Marysville administrators capitalized on his education and experience. Because of upcoming retirements at the wastewater plant, they placed Wrubel on the fast track.

While working mostly at the wastewater plant, he helped develop a quality control plan for the laboratory and later did the same at the water plant lab. Once he had the necessary experience at the wastewater plant, he moved to the water side. He wrote his licenses up to F-1, S-1 and Class A (the highest levels), and in July 2003 was promoted to wastewater treatment plant supervisor.

Today, Wrubel works with wastewater operators Jim Mieksztyn and Tim Giles, also lifelong Marysville residents and plant employees for five and three years. Giles holds a Class D license and Mieksztyn a Class C.

Improving the process

In recent years, the city has made substantial improvements to the wastewater treatment plant. In 2011 a new headworks screen and a sludge storage tank were added. “Up until then, with the comminutor, under a normal flow pattern, the influent pumps would get plugged up every three to four weeks,” Wrubel recalls. “When we would have a rain event, the three pumps would get plugged at least once or twice a day. We would try to clean them out at 3 o’clock, just before the shift was over, to make sure they would last as long as they could. Otherwise I’d get a call in the middle of the night because they were plugged up again.

“We’ve had the screen in operation for over two years now, and we haven’t had to clean one pump yet. We inspect them annually as part of our preventive maintenance plan, and each time the impellers have been completely clean. It’s been literally amusing that we have not had a pump issue since the screen was installed. The downstream process units are also benefiting from the screen’s efficiency.”

Before the solids storage capacity was expanded, the plant never had good settling. A contractor had to haul away as much as 900,000 gallons of biosolids per year. The additional storage tank allows Mieksztyn and Giles to decant more water. That means lower volume being hauled and less money spent. “Now it’s much, much better,” Wrubel says. “Concerning operational improvements, the storage upgrade ranks in importance right next to the new screen system.”

More capacity

After two consecutive 100-year storms in May 2004, the city increased its wastewater plant capacity. Wrubel says the storms “changed the landscape of the city.” During those events, stormwater and wastewater flooded homeowners’ basements. The city created a plan to prevent recurrence and, in October 2012, residents toured a new 10.2 mgd design flow plant.

The system has a new 2-million-gallon sanitary sewer overflow (SSO) basin in addition to the existing 900,000-gallon wet-weather storage tanks. Existing pumps (Flowserve) feed the new basin, which has six channels, each equipped with flushing gates (GNA).

The city also upgraded the plant with a third primary clarifier, a third trickling filter and a third secondary clarifier. The $20 million upgrade was financed with $8 million from the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and $12 million from a low-interest loan through the Michigan State Revolving Loan Fund. Consulting engineers Hubbell Roth & Clark oversaw the project; construction was done by 3-S Construction and Brencal Contractors.

The treatment process starts with an Aquaguard mechanical screen that drops debris into an auger press (both from Parkson). Pumps (Flygt – a Xylem Brand) move wastewater through a flowmeter (ABB) into the grit system. Blowers aerate it in a coagulant mixing tank.

The three primary clarifiers use augers and flights (E & I Corp). From the primary effluent wet well, the wastewater is pumped to the three trickling filters (arms by WesTech Engineering; media by Brentwood Industries). The three secondary clarifiers use Westech drives, sweep arms, inlet baffles and discharge weir systems.

The system uses an induction unit to add sodium hypochlorite in a chlorine contact chamber. The sodium bisulfite dechlorination process includes a monitoring system (Severn Trent Services). An 800,000-gallon solids storage tank includes a trestle for easy truck loading. Effluent wastewater discharges to the St. Clair River.

Operating challenges

Operating the plant during the upgrade was challenging, and it changed the focus from repair to regular maintenance, says Wrubel. “The drives are different with oil lubricant, not grease,” he says. “The maintenance is a little more finicky, so you have to stay on top of it. The team was trained pretty well on site. We adjusted the plant to get things running right, but there was a learning curve.”

The team runs daily lab tests and makes quality-control checks on the lab. “As soon as we start to see a problem, we get on it,” Wrubel says. “In all honesty, right now the plant’s been pretty much trouble-free. It’s going from two tanks of everything up to three, and at the average daily flow levels we have, it’s almost hard not to treat properly.”

The upgrade has made things easier to manage. “Our water quality is a lot better,” Wrubel says. “Not that we had problems or violations before, but looking at our lab data, you can see our treatment is simply better. Also, without worrying about SSOs like we used to, we can sleep better at night during a storm.”

Being of service

The city promoted Wrubel in July 2006 to supervise the water plant. While keeping the two plants running, he ventured into industry service. As an MWEA member, Wrubel serves on the Part 5 Advisory Group Committee, which is revising the rules that govern oil and various pollutant regulations to protect Michigan’s waterways and sewer systems.

He has presented a report on Marysville’s community resiliency and water security at a roundtable workshop coordinated by the St. Clair County Homeland Security – Emergency Management Office.

In his spare time, Wrubel coaches Little League baseball (his son is on the local team) and sits on the local league board. He also plays volleyball and volunteers as an assistant coach for his 10-year-old daughter’s volleyball team.

As for his professional life: “I wanted to be in a spot to make a difference. I like taking the plant under my own wing, tweaking it and making things better and more efficient. I enjoy finding ways around problems, making the team look good, and putting people in place who are happiest with their duties.”


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