How Ordinary Attention to Detail Wins Awards

Plain old experience and diligence keep treatment performance consistently on track for the clean-water plant team in Marshall, Missouri.
How Ordinary Attention to Detail Wins Awards
The Marshall Southeast Wastewater Treatment Plant received the 2016 Missouri Water Environment Association Treatment Plant of the Year award.

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As a teenager working at the Marshall Southeast Wastewater Treatment Plant, Rick Bailey got a lesson about quality work.

“My boss was Harold McDaniels,” he recalls. “He told us to go out and mow around the gate and the fence row. When we were done, he came back and said, ‘I thought I told you to mow.’ I said, ‘Well, we did.’ He said, ‘It doesn’t look very good to me. Go do it again.’

“After the third time we did it, he said, ‘From now on, when I tell you to mow, that’s what I want it to look like.’ He just kept sending us back until we got it right. That’s where I got the message about doing things right the first time.”

That simple lesson has guided Bailey for 43 years, his last seven as chief operator at the plant in Marshall, a community of 13,500 in central Missouri. He and his team have made it pay off in excellent permit compliance and in recognitions that include Missouri Water Environment Association Treatment Plant of the Year awards in 1996 and 2016.

Bailey gives credit not to sophisticated technology or exotic practices, but to ordinary attention to detail, from diligent equipment maintenance to basic housekeeping — and yes, that includes keeping the grounds manicured: mowed, weeded and weed wacked.

Years of change

The Marshall Southeast plant, owned by Marshall Municipal Utilities, was completed in 1972 to replace two small trickling filter plants. It had three raw sewage pumps, an aerated grit removal system, two primary clarifiers, two trickling filters, two final clarifiers and two lagoons totaling 7 acres. Biosolids were dewatered with two coil filters (Komline-Sanderson).

That plant treated about 1.5 mgd of domestic sewage, but a growing hog kill plant eventually sent it from 2 mgd to as much as 3 mgd of pretreated but still high-strength wastewater. That put stress on the primary clarifiers and the coil filters. In response, in 1988 the utility added a primary and secondary clarifier as well as a third coil filter and an additional sludge holding basin, and built a new office and lab.

When that failed to resolve the issues, the utility abandoned the trickling filters in favor of an activated sludge process. That upgrade, completed in 1993, added two 3.5-million-gallon, peanut-shaped aeration basins (Schreiber); three new, 1-million-gallon final clarifiers; and a 9-million-gallon flow equalization basin. The old final clarifiers were converted to sludge holding basins, the lagoons were closed, and cascade aeration was added before effluent discharge to Salt Fork Creek.

The upgrade boosted design capacity to 7.09 mgd, enough to handle the hog kill plant wastewater and accommodate new industries. However, less than a year later, the hog kill plant was converted to a meat packaging operation and its daily flow declined to about 50,000 gpd. Total Marshall Southeast plant flow now averages 2.73 mgd. “We have about twice the plant we need,” Bailey says. “So, we just cut it in half. We run one aeration basin, do maintenance on the other in summertime, and alternate them every year.”

Another upgrade completed in 2014 replaced the original raw sewage pumps with three ABS submersible pumps for dry-weather flows and three more for peak flow (all Sulzer Pumps Solutions). In addition, a new headworks facility was built with bar screens (Duperon Corporation) and a PISTA grit system (Smith & Loveless). A UV disinfection system (UltraTech Systems) was also installed, and a new maintenance shop was completed last summer.

Even keel

Bailey and his team oversee operations within the plant fence line; a separate department handles the wastewater lift stations, collection lines and water mains. That team is working steadily to reduce sewer system inflow & infiltration. Two factors help keep the plant running smoothly: the 40-plus years’ experience of Bailey and colleague John Heilman, who runs the lab, and the consistency of influent from a community where the population and industrial base have remained mostly static.

“I started part time in 1974, and John started full time in 1975,” Bailey says. “Between the two of us, we know how this plant functions. I’ve been here so long that I can go look at the aeration basin and just about tell what I need to be doing. I can look at the color and how much foam is on top. If it looks dark and greasy, it’s probably getting a little old and we need to waste some.

“It’s just good practices; I don’t look at it as doing anything special. We basically operate off our settleometer test. We run that on a daily basis, and that’s a pretty good indicator. It tells us how well the sludge is settling and whether we need to waste or not.” The flow equalization basin helps handle wet-weather flows, which have gone as high as 22 mgd as recently as last summer.

Aeration operates on a feedback loop based on the dissolved oxygen level as measured by inline probes (WTW, a Xylem brand). The influent pumps are automatically flow-paced.

As for industry, the main contributors are the meat packaging plant, an egg processor, and a producer of packaged dinners and other foods. “The industries work well with us; we’ve never had any real problem with them,” Bailey says. “If I need them to do something, I pick up the phone and call them, and they take care of it. If they need help, we respond. The fact we have the capacity to handle more volume makes it easy on us.”

The biosolids side also runs with minimal hitches. Material at about 2 percent solids is dosed with polymer, dewatered on a belt press (Rex) and fed to a pug mill where it is mixed with lime. The resulting Class B product at about 20 percent solids is stockpiled for application to cropland in spring and fall; 2016 production totaled 430 dry tons. The plant staff handles site permitting and recordkeeping; they use two trucks to haul the material to the farms and spread it with beater bars. The plant earned the Missouri Water Environment Association Biosolids Management Award in 2003 and 2009.

Cohesive team

Besides Bailey and Heilman, the plant team includes Nolan Townsend (Class A license), Eric Perkins (Class B), and Aaron Boston and Kyle O’Bryan (both Class C). Ginny Ismay, environmental director for 21 years, retired last summer.

“I assure my team members that if we all work together, set goals, and keep the place looking nice, we’re going to be successful,” Bailey says. “We’re not going to let things get so far behind that we have to chase our tails fixing them. We stay on top of it the best we can. They’re just a good bunch of guys. I told them when we hired them that they would be doing anything from cleaning basins to weed eating to painting to tearing apart pumps. They do a wide range of things, and they don’t complain about any of it.”

Housekeeping gets a top priority: “One of my previous bosses liked to say, ‘Just because it’s a sewer plant doesn’t mean it has to look like one.’ So, we keep the grounds all mowed and trimmed and everything painted and cleaned up.” Maintenance is also performed religiously; that starts with choosing equipment with a record for durability and ease of maintenance.

“On our bar screens, the greasing is minimal,” Bailey says. “We keep bearings in stock for the belt press so we can change those out, and we grease them once a month. We change the oil in the blowers (Aerzen USA) about every six months — spring and fall.” Safety also gets ample attention; last summer, the plant reached seven years without a lost time injury.

Meanwhile, the in-house lab accommodates testing for BOD, TSS, ammonia, fecal coliform, pH, and dissolved oxygen for compliance and process control purposes. Contract labs test monthly sludge samples and run tests for priority pollutants, whole-effluent toxicity, oil, and grease.

Transition looming

Plant leadership is about to change, as Bailey and Heilman plan to retire by year’s end. Both have worked with Townsend, Bailey’s successor, to help smooth the transition. Meanwhile, permit requirements are changing. The plant now monitors for phosphorus, but Bailey expects a permit limit within the next five years. That might require a switch from mechanical aerators to floor-mounted fine-bubble diffusers.

“We may also have to add some type of mixers, possibly section the basins off, do some oxic and anoxic zones for phosphorus removal, and probably do chemical feed along with it,” Bailey says. “At this point, we’re preparing for all that. We’ve got four or five years left to pay off our last upgrade project. I hope that by the time we get the design work done for the next phase of work, we’ll be within a couple of years of paying that off.”

In short, Bailey says, “Just keep rolling.”

A car, a career

As a 16-year-old in Marshall, Missouri, Rick Bailey had his eye on a 1967 Pontiac GTO. There was just one problem: He had no money.

“My grandfather was general manager of Marshall Municipal Utilities,” Bailey recalls. “He told me, ‘Go down and talk to the wastewater superintendent. He’ll hire you for summer help.’

“I worked there a couple of summers doing maintenance, painting and mowing. The second year, I started doing some lab testing. I worked about 30 hours a week, weekends and after school.”

He ended up getting the car and, in the bargain, a career. “When I graduated from high school, they said, ‘If you want to stay, we’ll keep you on.’ I told them I would until I found something better, and here I am, still here.”

He worked in the lab for about 30 years and was promoted to chief operator in 2010. There were always enough challenges to hold his interest, not the least being adjustment to the activated sludge process after years of trickling filter operation. His current role gave him new insights and challenges as a manager and team leader.

Bailey plans to retire at the end of 2017, freeing time to enjoy his hobbies, which include golf, bowhunting and trout fishing.


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