Asset Management Gets Big Attention At The Newly Upgraded Plant Bucklin Point, R.I.

Asset management gets big attention at the newly upgraded Bucklin Point plant in Rhode Island. That includes the greatest asset of all – the staff.
Asset Management Gets Big Attention At The Newly Upgraded Plant Bucklin Point, R.I.
Tom Ciolfi, superintendent of the Bucklin Point Wastewater Treatment Facility in East Providence, R.I.

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Tom Ciolfi is proud of the $38 million upgrade completed last July at the Bucklin Point Wastewater Treatment Facility. He’s proud of the effluent that meets a new permit nitrogen limit of 5.0 mg/L.

Most of all, he’s proud of the 38 people who operate and maintain the plant, a 46 mgd (design) secondary facility with advanced biological nutrient removal in Providence, R.I., owned by the Narragansett Bay Commission, managed by United Water, and operated and maintained by commission employees.

“The work relationship here is a little unique, considering that we’re a contract management company, managing Bay Commission employees,” says Ciolfi, plant superintendent. “But there’s a heck of a partnership here, and we all have the same goal. That’s to be professional, be efficient and do the best job we can do.”

To that end, Ciolfi and the United Water leadership team strive to instill a spirit of teamwork in the staff. The routine includes daily meetings at the start of each shift to discuss the day’s priorities. It includes periodic “tailgate meetings” to discuss issues of concern.

And for Ciolfi and shift supervisors Cliff Koehler, Terrance Harrington and Thomas White, it means listening to and addressing team members’ concerns, cultivating positive attitudes and sharing information that helps everyone understand the “why” of everyday policies practices.

With the upgrade project now in the rearview mirror, the team is intent on managing all facility assets effectively and on completing housekeeping projects that help older areas of the plant look and feel like new.

Long relationship

United Water is in the ninth year of a 10-year management contract with the Narragansett Bay Commission; two potential five-year renewals are pending. Ciolfi, who previously worked as an operator at the commission’s 77 mgd (design) Field’s Point Wastewater Treatment Facility, joined United Water in 2005 as a shift supervisor. He also worked as maintenance manager and assistant superintendent before taking his current position in early 2014.

“A number of us on the United Water team here used to be Bay Commission employees, so we understand their way of doing business and the high standards of performance they expect,” he says. He acknowledges the challenges of helping to lead the team through several years of construction during the upgrade, which aimed not to increase capacity but to enable compliance with new effluent nitrogen limits set by the state Department of Environmental Management.

The plant handles dry-weather flow (average 23 mgd) with primary and secondary (activated sludge) treatment and UV disinfection. Flows beyond the 46 mgd design go through primary settling before disinfection with sodium hypochlorite and sodium bisulfite. “In the winter months, we have a modified Ludzack-Ettinger process, and in summer we switch to a four-stage mode,” says Ciolfi. “That’s basically what the upgrade consisted of.

Down with nitrogen

“When we’re in the winter mode, we have the first anoxic zone and then three aerobic zones follow. The last zone, which we call cell D, has low dissolved oxygen, about 0.5 mg/L, and that’s where we recycle from. That return activated sludge [RAS] goes all the way up to the anoxic zone. With the fourth stage, we give the nitrogen another shot to break down in a second anoxic zone.

“We increase the flow of RAS to help in nitrogen removal. We also separated some tanks — made them swing zones in the aeration tanks. We have four trains to enable us to recycle from different locations. We installed mixers in the anoxic zones, set up a pre-aeration zone, and put analyzers in to get feedback for the addition of supplemental carbon, if needed. We don’t think we need it, but we do have the ability to introduce it into the aeration tanks. We also have a newly remodeled soda ash silo in case pH should become a problem.

“The key to the aeration process is getting a profile. We do this monthly or weekly, depending on the numbers we’re receiving, to determine the point where our ammonia is at its lowest and nitrates are highest. The last cells, C and D, are the swing zones, where we are able to have one half of the cell aerobic and the other half anoxic. We re-establish the anoxic part of the process farther down the train.

“In the four-stage mode, we take the recycle pump that is normally located in cell D at the end of the train, and we move that up to the front of cell C — the point where nitrate is at its highest and ammonia is at its lowest. We get all the nitrates into the first anoxic zone. That’s where we get the conversion of the nitrate to N2 gas.”

Efficient aeration

Four 8-foot diameter US Filter screw pumps (Evoqua), each with 38.7 mgd capacity, deliver influent to the treatment process. The flow passes through a catenary bar screen (Fairfield Service Company of Indiana LLC)  and a Waste Tech vortex grit removal system (Kusters Water). Three primary clarifiers have Hi-Tech skimmer arms and sludge rakes (also Kusters Water).

Primary effluent flows through a splitter box to the four aeration tanks. “We have two 600 hp Dresser Roots centrifugal blowers [GE Water Technology] and two newly installed turbo blowers [APG-Neuros] because of the different demand for oxygen at different times,” says Ciolfi. “We use the turbo blowers in off-demand times. We are able to throttle those blowers to prevent over-saturating the aeration tanks with oxygen.” An optical sensor probe (InsiteIG) monitors DO levels.

Water from the aeration process passes to six Hi-Tech Environmental secondary clarifiers (Kusters Water). Secondary effluent goes through UV disinfection (TrojanUV) and then to the Seekonk River. Waste activated and primary sludges are delivered to two newly installed gravity belt thickeners (BDP Industries) and then to four anaerobic digesters. Biogas from the digestion process fires boilers that provide digester heat; excess biogas is flared. Biosolids at 4.5 to 5 percent solids are removed by a contractor for composting and land application.

Making it all work

It took a strong team to work through the plant upgrade, and that same team now keeps the process flowing smoothly. Key team members in addition to the shift supervisors are Marc Pariseault, assistant superintendent; Tony Calenda, maintenance foreman; Tony Tamburrino, utility crew foreman; Ed Taylor, operations foreman; and Fred Diez, electrical foreman. John Contrino, instrumentation technician, plays an important role in ensuring that DO control is operating as designed.

Accountability and responsibility are essential to building teamwork and good morale, Ciolfi observes. The foremen, union employees of the Bay Commission, solidify the chain of command. “Once you establish a chain of command, you need to stick to it,” says Ciolfi. “If I am out in the plant and I see something that’s not right, it works better if I go to the assistant superintendent and say I have a concern.

“For example, I might say, ‘One of the algae sweeps on Final Tank 6 seems a little out of sorts — would you have maintenance look into it?’ That way I don’t approach operators with negative issues. There are different levels of responsibility, and we each own a piece of it.

“Another thing I’ve found is that when someone brings you a concern, you address it. It may be a small matter in your mind, but it could be a very big concern to the other person. So you don’t just file it somewhere or say, ‘I’ll get back to you.’

“Suppose an operator says, ‘If I had a rake 2 feet longer, I could reach the top of the bar rack without standing on something.’ You listen and you react. Little things like that take really no time at all, and they pay great dividends.”

Let’s talk about it

Consistent communication helps keep the team aligned with the plant’s priorities. Mandatory team meetings at the start of every shift tell team members about the day’s assignments. Tailgate meetings, called as needed, address specific concerns in the plant or highlight team accomplishments.

“Let’s say someone noticed that an algae sweep had a 10-foot tail of algae wrapped around it,” says Ciolfi. “We know from experience that it’s going to break free, make its way to the UV disinfection system and cause problems with our fecals. We bring forth things we can’t afford to miss. As a result, we find these kinds of things getting fewer and fewer. Now we’re more focused on morale boosters. Here’s a picture of the effluent — look at what a great job we’re doing. Here’s a picture of the sludge pumps that were painted on your shift.”

The plant leadership team regularly shares data on plant performance on bulletin boards. Twice a year, Bay Commission leaders visit to discuss the bigger picture. On a board at the locker room entrance, Ciolfi posts photos of team members at work: “We keep changing the pictures out. You’ll see the operators looking for themselves. They get a kick out of it.”

On the flip side, Ciolfi says, “We do not entertain negativity. We stop it. Anytime someone is going down that road, we say, ‘Hold on, let’s back up a minute.’ When you allow negativity, it can become a fire that gets out of hand.” Meanwhile, violations of protocol — like arriving late for a pre-shift meeting — are addressed promptly, consistently and candidly.

All eyes on assets

The plant’s engaged and energized team devotes substantial attention to the equipment that drives plant processes. Peter Eldridge, asset manager, helps lead an extensive program of planned and predictive maintenance. A computerized maintenance management system (Hansen) automatically generates maintenance work orders.

Maintenance is thoroughly structured so that nothing is missed. The plant has expanded its spare parts inventory to shorten lead times for many repairs. “All work in the facility needs a work order number, or the work cannot be performed,” Ciolfi says. “No one can simply call on the radio and say, ‘Hey, can you meet me at the pump station? I hear a funny noise.’ There is a whole chain of events that must occur.

“We start with a service request. Someone needs to verify that it is a legitimate task and generate a work order. David Sousa, our planner/scheduler, has a very important role. He lays out the work schedule and makes sure all the proper work orders are associated with each task. Everything has a criticality rating to see to it that nothing critical lags behind.

“Every morning David comes in and reviews service requests that may have been generated during the night. He sees what is critical and schedules the work. Noncritical tasks go to our asset manager, who lines up the schedule with the maintenance foreman. At Friday meetings, we grade the percentage of the work completed. We grade each mechanic. Any work that didn’t get completed gets moved out to the following week — all we need is a reason why.”

Predictive maintenance includes scheduled oil analysis, once-a-year vibration analysis on critical equipment and a general annual assessment of all assets. “We have a capital planning program where we project out five to 10 years and look at equipment that may be nearing its life expectancy,” Ciolfi says. Rebuild kits are kept on hand for selected critical assets.

In the end, what makes it all work is the team, Ciolfi says: “We promote team spirit, teamwork and a team attitude. That takes work — it doesn’t happen overnight. But we stay consistent. We provide structure. We listen. As a result, we have complete buy-in from the staff.”  

More Information

APG-Neuros - 866/592-9482 -

BDP Industries, Inc. - 518/527-5417 -

Evoqua Water Technologies, LLC -

Fairfield Service Co. of Indiana, LLC - 219/872-3000 -

GE Water & Process Technologies - 866/439-2837 -

Insite IG - 985/639-0006 -

Kusters Water, division of Kusters Zima Corp. - 800/264-7005 -

TrojanUV - 888/220-6118 -

United Water - 201/767-9300 -


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