Breaking Trail

Katie Goin and her team work methodically to upgrade the wastewater treatment and collection system in a small community in northwest Wisconsin.
Breaking Trail
The team at the Cumberland Wastewater Treatment Facility includes, from left, Randy Pedersen, operations specialist; Katie Goin, plant manager; and Barry Bassett, lab technician.

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For 52 years, a cheese factory employed many residents of Cumberland, Wis. In 1953, the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) required the rural community build a trickling filter wastewater treatment plant to handle the factory’s high-strength waste.

A second mandate led to an upgrade to rotating biological contactors (RBC) in 1981. When the factory closed in 1991 and no longer provided revenue, the community’s 2,200 residents faced rate increases to cover remaining debt.

In 2006, Katie Goin joined the plant as a Grade 4 wastewater operator and Grade 2 laboratory technician. Seven years later, the city council promoted her to plant manager. Despite inheriting a 32-year-old facility in need of many improvements, Goin and Grade 3 operators Randy Pedersen and Barry Bassett overcame many challenges, modernizing operations and improving facility performance.

Working with engineers, the team developed an asset management program, an operating budget and a master plan, then revised the collection system maintenance schedule to provide more frequent service, thus fewer issues and emergencies. In 2012, the Wisconsin Wastewater Operators Association named Goin Operator of the Year for the Northwest Region.

State of affairs

Beaver Dam Lake at the head of the Hay River nearly surrounds Cumberland’s four square miles. The 400,000 gpd (design) plant uses four stages of RBCs in two trains to treat an average of 200,000 gpd. Effluent discharges to the river. The collection system has 23 miles of mostly 8-inch clay tile pipes, along with 15 lift stations, 500 manholes and four air release valves. Goin’s team maintains everything.

Goin came to the community with experience at the 28 mgd (design) Marshfield Wastewater Treatment Plant, at a 1 mgd turkey-processing facility in Barron and at other plants in Wisconsin. “I learned many different ways of doing things better,” she says. “I’m trying to share that knowledge here.”

She also came with an associate degree in applied science in water and wastewater from Vermilion Area Community College in Ely, Minn. She had previously earned a degree in parks and recreation from the same school, but realized seasonal work in that field would not help make her financially independent. In switching to the water side, “I had no idea what the subject was about, but it quickly became interesting and enjoyable,” she says. “It’s cool being responsible for multimillion-dollar facilities.”

Wally Thom, water and wastewater manager for nearby Rice Lake Utilities, who nominated Goin for the award, says her diverse background makes her one of the best operators around: “I’ve seen Katie do more than operators with 25 years of experience.” The improvements she has promoted at times have been “a hard sell,” says Thom, because not all residents understand “that federal and state regulations drive everything in wastewater, not the person running the plant.”

Looking to the future

The city had operated without a wastewater budget, preferring to cover the previous year’s expenses by raising sewer rates the following year, stressing many in a community with $36,000 median household income. Plant maintenance was reactive; Goin has lobbied for a preventive approach, for the plant as well as for the lift stations.

A major force behind the change is a $6.4 million upgrade to meet new discharge limits. Goin and her operators worked closely with engineers Bill Chang and John Stewart of MSA Professional Services to determine the best treatment process. While the RBCs met the discharge limits and worked well for the community, they were high maintenance. The team therefore selected an activated sludge process that, while more labor intensive, would be easier to maintain. Construction began earlier this year.

Along the way, the city changed its street-paving procedure to include replacement of sewer mains in conjunction with road work. Previously, contractors sometimes had to dig up new asphalt and sidewalks to spot-repair sewers. Goin also advocated for accelerated collection system maintenance, changing the cycle from 20 years to five to seven years, as recommended by the DNR.

Ripples of change

Knowing her team needed a sewer cleaning truck, Goin sought quotes from three contractors to clean the pipelines, then found a 1999 Vactor 2100 unit. She compared its $180,000 price tag with the bids and projected a two-year payback by doing the work in-house. “I had to sell the idea hard, because a jet-vac unit is new technology here,” she says.

Pedersen operates the truck, which runs almost daily. Bassett operates the cleaning hose and Goin signals when the nozzle arrives in the downstream manhole. Massive root intrusion causes most backups and sanitary sewer overflows, and Goin aims to prevent them. “I cringe when customers report sewage in their homes,” she says. “I don’t want them getting sick. We had four SSOs during the first nine days of last August, and all but one was preventable. That hurts, because I take public safety and environmental risks to heart.”

In 2013, Goin convinced the council to spend $40,000 on a 2001 tracked ROVVER camera system (Envirosight), which she projected would pay for itself in three years. That year, the crew televised, root-cut, and cleaned 20 percent of the system. They notified homeowners who had huge root balls at the ends of their laterals, then referred them to contractors. “My goal was to clean 30 percent of the mains last year,” she says. “Compared with cleaning 5 percent annually, we’ve made huge progress.”

Goin’s crew spends 80 percent of the time working in the collection system; the remainder at the plant. Besides their regular duties, Goin (a licensed heavy-equipment operator) and her team help the Streets Department with snow removal when needed.

Her optimistic attitude and passionate commitment to wastewater have impressed many professionals. “I talked to Katie’s former supervisors and DNR engineer Pete Prusac,” says Thom. “They gave her talents and abilities high praise, because she always does more than her job. Katie’s a self-starter, and that’s a rare quality.”

Giant steps

Goin is proudest of co-workers Pedersen, a former electrician, and Bassett, who has a bachelor’s degree in biology (he previously kept fish alive in a hatchery using reverse osmosis and recycled water). “Randy is a natural when it comes to wastewater treatment,” says Goin. “He always thinks outside the box and finds better ways to do the job.” Several days after Bassett arrived, she put him in charge of the laboratory.

Although only Goin is required by law to be certified, both operators are working toward Grade 4 certification. “They are as committed to wastewater as I am,” she says. “They’re wonderful people and I can’t imagine life without them.”

Pedersen and Bassett offer support in many ways, including leaving candy on Goin’s desk or “Be Happy!” notes when she returns from stressful meetings. “Katie interacts very well with her operators,” says Thom. “She’s a hands-on manager who gets as dirty as they do, and that’s a big plus because everyone in this partnership is equal.”

Goin’s goal is to see the day the community views the wastewater profession as valuable and clean-water workers as assets. To educate customers, she has written newspaper articles about the plant and collection system and has proposed a web page and pamphlets. She plans to invite the community to watch the upgrade as it happens. “If that doesn’t work, I’ll educate their children,” she says. “It’s time to take charge and get the job done.”  

More Information

Envirosight - 866/936-8476 -

Vactor Manufacturing - 800/627-3171 -


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