Clean-Water Expansion: What’s Up In Woodstock?

Virginia’s Town of Woodstock expects fast population growth and has prepared its clean-water facility through capital expansion and employee development.
Clean-Water Expansion: What’s Up In Woodstock?
The Town of Woodstock Water Treatment Plant staff includes, from left, Steve Long, Samuel Dinges, Charles Weaver, Daniel Bailey and Paul Nesselrodt.

Interested in Education/Training?

Get Education/Training articles, news and videos right in your inbox! Sign up now.

Education/Training + Get Alerts

Known as the Star on the Shen-andoah, Woodstock is Virginia’s fourth oldest town, nestled in the Shenandoah Valley. With a population of 5,200, the town has been challenged to prepare for growth.

Besides building and upgrading facilities and technology, the town has invested substantially in training and developing its staff in all departments, including water and wastewater. It’s part of a strategic plan that aims to foster high-quality services.

Among the community’s investments is a new clean-water plant, built in the mid-2000s to comply with Virginia’s tightening nutrient removal standards and an anticipated build-out of 1,800 additional homes. “When we sat down to design the facility, we wanted to meet nutrient removal requirements but have enough capacity for the anticipated growth,” says James Didawick, superintendent of Public Works.

The original 20-year-old extended aeration oxidation ditch facility was outdated. Unable to upgrade it to newer technology, the town began engineering a new plant in 2005 and five years later completed a new $31 million, 2 mgd membrane bioreactor facility, helped by a $12 million grant from the state Department of Environmental Quality.

Strategic planning

Dr. Reid Wodicka took over as town manager in 2012 and ordered a complete operations and policy review to identify opportunities for improvement. “We don’t look at the town as individual departments but as one entity working toward the goal of providing high quality public service,” he says. “This means everyone from police to water to administration needs to operate in the same way with the same goals.”

The town enacted a six-year strategic plan based on input from all departments. Each department head presented objectives to the town council. Together the groups identified common themes, established goals, and set standards for a positive economic and work environment.

“We want to attract and retain the best employees,” says Wodicka. “While this applies to our entire town, each department has accountability to implement training and processes to build its team. This ultimately better serves our residents.”

Upgrading the team

Didawick’s role in strategic planning was to define goals for the water and wastewater staff and facilities. While training was not new to his department, Didawick took it a step further, formalizing a weekly wastewater treatment training program on a quarterly schedule. While he keeps the schedule flexible to account for operational issues and weather, the team typically assembles on Wednesday afternoons.

“We train in every aspect of the treatment process, from lockout/tag out to air line inspection, from personal protection to operating machinery,” says Didawick. “With our training, the operators gain better general knowledge of everything, and then they improve the general knowledge with more specific knowledge.”

The wastewater treatment facility employs a chief operator, an assistant chief, three operators and two maintenance technicians. The 2 mgd conventional surface water treatment plant has a chief operator, an assistant chief and three operators.

A key to Didawick’s program is that the staff does the training. Members rotate through the schedule, each person presenting on one area to the rest of the team. After a year and a half, the results are positive, Wodicka observes: “They’re a knowledgeable staff, and Jim took advantage of what they know. Having the staff conduct the training makes the team stronger.”

First class only

While overseeing development of his team’s skills and knowledge, Didawick also requires each operator to achieve Class 1 (highest) licensure. The Woodstock facilities are licensed Class 2, but Didawick sees no reason team members should only meet the minimum requirements. “I want our facilities to operate in the best way possible,” he says. “Class 1 licensing helps us produce a higher-quality product.”

Today, all have achieved Class 1 except the newest hire, who is on his way. Wodicka believes the higher standards make the jobs more interesting: “Our people see that their jobs have an incredible effect on health and the environment. What they do and how they do it matters. This is why our town is successful.”

Another upgrade includes a cloud-based computerized work order system. The team is well satisfied with the system, used at both facilities to track maintenance. “FacilityDude is a great program that’s user-friendly, straightforward and simple, and the data is stable,” Didawick says. “Everyone has access to the same data real-time.”

The facilities also use electronic instruments. Operators pay close attention to flows to monitor inflow and infiltration. “We use the flowmeters to monitor data,” Wodicka says. “By using statistical methods, we immediately identify areas of concern. We have a remediation plan in place and are ready to go when it rains hard and our system reaches or exceeds capacity.”

Looking ahead

Staff training and improved systems make Woodstock’s operators better at what they do. Didawick enrolls team members in the California State University water and wastewater training programs. He also sends them to Virginia Tech for weeklong water and wastewater operation courses. “We want to promote from within,” he says. “Using what works well and then tweaking our training helps get our team to the next level.”

Wodicka observes, “Not every town or city has the positive working environment that we do. We’ve been able to implement the strategic plan because we’ve worked hard to enlist the support of the town council and elected officials. We’ll continue to encourage our team members to put their best work forward.”  


Comments on this site are submitted by users and are not endorsed by nor do they reflect the views or opinions of COLE Publishing, Inc. Comments are moderated before being posted.