About Technology

I felt a need to respond to your article, “The Case for Old School” (TPO, May 2015). I have been in the wastewater/water/distribution and collections departments of several utilities and can answer some of your questions about new technologies and advances in our field. 

I am reminded of my beginning in wastewater in 1987 in New Hampshire. I began my career in a chemical plant, and at that time we had only a lagoon system, for which we had to meet some new and stringent NPDES permit limits. We were building a new state-of-the-art plant. 

My fellow operators and I were trained for several months in new laboratory analysis (BOD, metals and others) to meet these new parameters and what to do in case we saw any abnormalities in our waste stream that might upset our plant.

We were lucky to have great training by engineers who staffed our facility. They handed us a copy of as-builts and acquainted us with the plant as it was being constructed. We were then given tags and instructed to manually tag each valve, pump and component and ensure that we knew what they did and how to manually operate each part in case automated controls failed. 

It came in very handy several times when the new plant came online. SCADA controls did not always work as intended, and we had to operate in the manual mode. It was quite an introduction to this new field and to automation. 

My life carried me years later to the Sunshine State of Florida. There again I experienced a plant upgrade from conventional to sequencing batch reactor (SBR) units. We had the dilemma of trying to keep the old plant running while the new was being built around it. It was a major accomplishment by the operations team. 

We had some minimal training on the new process before the SBR units went online. SBRs have a lot of things happening all at once and frequently (batch mode). We were introduced to the SCADA controls and how we could override the system — via computer if need be. 

Everything went according to plan with minimal hiccups, and then, boom! The SCADA system crashed and we had to revert to the manual mode. This is when things get interesting, trying to remember what mode the basins were in at any time and having to go out of the control room in a thunderstorm to manually run the plant. Did they have that in the playbook? We persevered and overcame. 

I now find myself years later in New Mexico. I operate a plant with some new, updated controls and parts of the plant are still “old school.” I realize all the computerization today makes it easier to check on your plant with a click of the mouse or a text message on your phone. However, an operator must respond, and is the technology really telling the truth about what is actually happening? 

I hope the next generation of operators do not become too complacent with technology. I personally enjoy all the new and out with the old sometimes, as long as it runs accordingly. I remember the elders who taught me, so I hope you can understand my opinion. Trust me, writing this on a computer and not a typewriter is new!

As shown in your article on the plants in Amarillo, Texas, it is helpful to know how to interpret the lab results and plant functions and what to do when the proverbial material hits the fan. Hands on, hands down, any day!

Daniel Chasse

Las Cruces, New Mexico


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