Ken Rutt Pays It Forward by Mentoring Team Members the Way Others Mentored Him

Hatfield Award winner Ken Rutt was the beneficiary of excellent mentors. Now he serves as a mentor to his plant team in Broomfield, Colorado.

Ken Rutt Pays It Forward by Mentoring Team Members the Way Others Mentored Him

Ken Rutt (right) with Anthony Tuka, center, chief plant operator;  and John Rothrock, operator.

When Ken Rutt first met Jeri, his wife-to-be, the road ahead led not only to a happy marriage, but also to a successful career in the clean-water profession.

“My father-in-law, Bill Miller, worked for Metro Wastewater in Denver,” says Rutt, wastewater division superintendent at the Broomfield Wastewater Reclamation Facility and winner of the 2017 Rocky Mountain Water Environment Association William D. Hatfield Award. “He gave me a tour of the Denver plant and told me about the water-quality training program at a local university.”

Rutt enrolled in the program, earned his degree in water-quality management, and got an internship at the Broomfield facility, working under former superintendent Tom Huston. “When an operator trainee position opened up at the plant, I applied, Mr. Huston thought I was qualified, and I got the job.”

Three-stage process

Today, Rutt supervises the 12.0 mgd (design) Broomfield plant, which uses a three-stage modified Ludzack-Ettinger process with a pre-anoxic zone ahead of the anaerobic zone for biological nitrogen and phosphorus removal, and an integrated fixed-film activated sludge (IFAS) process (Kruger USA). Preliminary treatment includes screening (Vulcan Industries) and grit removal, followed by flow equalization and primary clarifiers. Secondary clarifiers and UV disinfection (SUEZ) follow the biological train.

After disinfection, the wastewater reclamation process includes DynaSand continuous upflow sand filters (Parkson Corp.) and hypochlorite addition for disinfection polishing. The city and county of Broomfield own, maintain, and operate an extensive nonpotable water system that is supplied by reclaimed wastewater blended with raw surface water supplies.

The blended water is used for outdoor irrigation of parks, golf courses, commercial areas, and other landscaped areas within the service area boundaries of Broomfield and completely separate from the potable water system.

The city has taken several steps to reduce process odors. Ferric chloride is fed to the influent flow to reduce hydrogen sulfide gas released into the vapor phase above the liquid surface of the primary clarifiers. The city also installed a durable-media BIOREM Technologies biofilter in 2002 to treat foul air collected at various processes. “We routinely test the biofilter to confirm that it is performing as specified,” Rutt says. “The latest round of tests show the biofilter achieved over 98 percent removal of H2S and 99 percent removal of total odor.”

Mentoring the staff

The operations staff includes nine team members who report to Rutt, plus four employees and an administrator in the industrial pretreatment and stormwater groups.

Mentored early in his career, Rutt takes the same approach with his own staff, making sure all are on the same page. “Throughout my 30-year career, I have enjoyed some of the best mentors,” he says. “They include Tom Huston and Wayne Ramey, who both served as Broomfield wastewater superintendents before my tenure; Ron Schuyler of Tetra Tech, one of the best teachers about activated sludge; and Mark Maxwell, a Denver engineer who served as project manager for our phase 1 and phase 2 upgrades and was always willing to share his engineering knowledge. 

“They were always willing to share and teach and were available to answer questions. Now I’m fortunate to have team members with the same heart and desire to improve water quality that I do.” He meets with them face-to-face every morning. “We give the staff the big-picture view of what’s on the horizon. We meet with our engineering group to review the goals and objectives of the various ongoing projects.”

Mentoring is one of Rutt’s strong suits, according to Dennis Rodriguez, industrial pretreatment and stormwater administrator, who has worked with Rutt for 11 years. “He’s been in pretreatment, and he knows the community,” Rodriguez says. “He has good insight, and he’s calm and not overly excited. He takes his time; we try to emulate him.”

Rodriguez says Rutt has been especially helpful in writing reports for superiors: “He makes us anticipate questions the reader of the report might ask. He’s a good resource.”

Anthony Tucka, chief plant operator, observes, “I’ve been working with Ken for 25 years. He’s the best I’ve ever worked for. He has a good grasp of corporate knowledge and trusts his employees to make the everyday decisions.”

Experience and know-how

Rutt knows what he’s doing. The Broomfield plant is a significant upgrade over the previous 5.4 mgd complete-mix activated sludge plant, and Rutt was involved in every aspect of the improvements, from planning to design to construction. “During the planning stage, we knew that we needed to expand capacity and improve treatment, including nutrient removal,” he says. “And all in a confined footprint, as we are landlocked.”

The 1999 wastewater treatment master plan identified improvements needed to increase plant capacity to 12 mgd in two phases. One option was IFAS with its plastic media carriers. “At the time, no installations of IFAS existed in North America, so pilot testing was completed and produced favorable results,” Rutt says. “We retrofitted the activated sludge process with the plastic media in 2003, making Broomfield the first plant in the country to use IFAS full-scale.” 

Because the process originated in Norway, Rutt and his team knew it would work in Colorado’s cold weather. The organisms grow on the surfaces of the small, wheel-shaped media and can withstand shock loads and excessive turbulence. “Even at 5 degrees Celsius, the process produces excellent results and nitrification,” Rutt says.

Since startup, Broomfield’s operators have refined the process and made minor modifications to the original design. Rutt observes, “The performance of the IFAS media exceeded expectations. The operators were able to reduce the mixed liquor suspended solids from the design value of 3,500 mg/L to approximately 2,000 mg/L, and the media fill fraction from 48 percent to 30 percent. Those modifications are now accepted in design considerations.”

New technology

Rutt says acceptance of new technology requires careful planning and research. “We’ve had good people and a strong engineering team,” he says. “We piloted the IFAS process from November all the way through March just to confirm the cold-weather results. It’s important to do a more robust, full-scale pilot study, not just a lab test.” He adds that operators are important in the adoption of new technology: “Experience matters. Trust your instincts as operators. In our case, we’ve been able to reduce the amount of media necessary.”

Rutt believes new technology is critical to the future of wastewater treatment. “Our challenges are similar to those across the world. How do we balance energy consumption with the increasingly lower effluent limits? How do we balance nutrient removal and its impact to beneficially reusing our biosolids?

“Plus, for those of us in semiarid and arid climates, how can we develop direct reuse to help relieve the ongoing stresses on our water resources? Technology is developing every day, and it is helping to meet these challenges. So it is critical that we continue to develop, train, and mentor today’s and tomorrow’s operators, managers, and decision-makers.”

Bright future

While he can look back with pride on his own career, he is bullish on the future of the profession: “There have been significant technology advancements to help us meet the challenges that have been thrown at us in the past 20 years. And we have a lot of outstanding people serving the water and wastewater industry who will carry on and meet the challenges of tomorrow.”

Rutt praises clean-water professionals for sharing their knowledge and experience while continuing to work to improve water quality and contain costs in their communities. “That’s one of the really neat aspects of the water and wastewater fields,” he says. “It’s also really important to get involved in local wastewater associations. Here in Colorado, the Rocky Mountain WEA is truly a valuable resource and a professionally rewarding experience.”

The organization also has presented Rutt with an award for Outstanding Service to the association and the Water Environment Federation.

Rutt, who was raised on a farm, recalls the old radio days when Paul Harvey admired farmers, saying “On the eighth day, God created a farmer.”

“Well,” Rutt observes, “shortly thereafter he had to create water and wastewater operators to keep the water clean for all to use. We may not get the same attention as other respected professions like police officers, teachers, and nurses, but we are just as valuable to the future of our communities.”

Coach Ken

As if running a top-flight wastewater reclamation plant and winning a William D. Hatfield Award weren’t enough, Ken Rutt coaches high school basketball. He’s head coach of the boys varsity team at The Academy, a charter school near his workplace.

“I’ve been coaching for 11 years,” Rutt says. His day at the treatment plant ends at 3:30 p.m., and the school is only two blocks away so he’s there in plenty of time for practice. Overall, his teams have gone 141-89 during his tenure.

“We’ve been to the state tournament in our division (3A) for 10 straight years,” he says. Last year his Wildcats went 17-7 and reached the regional finals. The game is nothing new to Rutt: He played basketball in high school at Tempe, Arizona, and later at Mesa College.

And there’s a connection to the wastewater plant. “A couple of our players have worked at the plant as seasonal employees,” Rutt says. “It has given them the opportunity to experience the clean-water profession.”


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