What Makes This Florida Clean-Water Plant Successful? You Can Sum It Up in One Word.

Award-winning Florida plant succeeds with excellent operation and maintenance, capital improvements, and a training program to attract and retain talented staff.

What Makes This Florida Clean-Water Plant Successful? You Can Sum It Up in One Word.

The North Regional plant is an activated sludge facility that produces effluent with 3.0 mg/L CBOD and 4.4 mg/L TSS and has reduced nutrient discharges to its ocean outfall.

Mark Darmanin will tell you there’s a simple reason for the success of the North Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant in Broward County, Florida.

That’s the expertise and dedication of the entire staff. “They take ownership of the facility,” says Darmanin, director of operations for Broward County Water and Wastewater Services. “All the technology and equipment wouldn’t make a difference without them.”

John Kay, assistant director, adds, “The pride they have in their work makes them truly special.” In 2016 and 2017, the plant won the Earle B. Phelps Award for outstanding wastewater treatment plant performance in the secondary treatment category from the Florida Water Environment Association.

The activated sludge plant (95 mgd design, 70.7 mgd average) consistently meets permit parameters, producing effluent with 3.0 mg/L CBOD and 4.4 mg/L TSS. It has reduced nutrient discharges to its ocean outfall and has an aggressive industrial pretreatment program. It also operates a septage receiving facility, a FOG receiving station and a biogas-to-energy cogeneration facility.

Darmanin says training is important: “Our trainee program allows those without a license to work part time. We look for people with potential and train them. That way, they obtain the knowledge and experience to sit for the exam.”

Reclaiming the water

The plant, in Pompano Beach, serves the county’s retail water customers and large users, including the cities of Coconut Creek, Coral Springs, Deerfield Beach, Lauderhill, North Lauderdale, Oakland Park, Pompano Beach and Tamarac. It also serves North Springs Improvement District, Parkland Utilities and Royal Utilities.

Raw wastewater enters the headworks, consisting of five continuous-cleaning bar screens (Parkson Corp.), an odor control system, and four PISTA Grit systems (Smith & Loveless). It is then sent to five aeration basin modules, followed by 19 secondary clarifiers (Ovivo USA, WesTech Engineering).

The effluent is either chlorinated (Blue Planet Environmental Systems) and pumped through a 54-inch-diameter ocean outfall, injected into Class I deep wells, or chlorinated and filtered in a 10 mgd reclaimed water system with tertiary filters (Parkson Corp.) and a chlorine contact chamber. Reclaimed water (4.75 mgd) is used for plant process water and for irrigation at the plant and a nearby commerce center.

Waste activated sludge is thickened (Grundfos Pumps thickener pumps, Viking thickener skimmer system) and dewatered with nine belt presses before anaerobic digestion. Biosolids are land-applied on farms. “We currently run about 14 percent solids and haul 230 wet tons per day,” Darmanin says. “Ninety-two percent of the biosolids in fiscal year 2017 were land-applied, and the rest were landfilled.”

Sustainable plant

To reduce nutrient discharges to the ocean, state law will eliminate the use of ocean outfalls after 2025, except for limited backup discharge. To prepare, Broward County increased the number of deep injection wells and added new booster pumps to the current wells.

The plant staff has reduced nutrient discharges to the outfall by increasing flow to the wells and increasing reclaimed water production. “Starting in 2011, we reduced nutrients discharged to the outfall by 24 percent,” Darmanin says. “Additional removal is achieved with nitrification/denitrification in the aeration basins.”

In 2016, the cogeneration facility was commissioned and the FOG receiving facility opened. FOG is injected into digesters. “The single-unit methane-powered system (GE/Jenbacher) produces 2 MW, or 20 percent of our plant’s usage,” Darmanin says. “It will reduce our annual energy consumption by 12 million kWh and our carbon emissions by more than 8,000 metric tons a year.”

Highly experienced

The staff has over 350 years of collective experience. Team members work three shifts to keep the treatment plant running efficiently. They are led by superintendents Ralph Aliseo (Class A wastewater license, 31 years at the plant), Persad Bissessar (Class A, 27 years), and Metason Philip (30 years).

Except for two trainees, all the operators are certified. Kay has high praise for his staff: “They are highly experienced and care about their work. This is a 100-acre facility, and you will not see a bolt or wrench lying around anywhere.”

Darmanin says, “I can call anyone at any hour of the day or night and they will say, ‘What do you need?’”

The operators use a work order system to keep the equipment running. A 29-member maintenance team performs all preventive maintenance and most repairs. The on-site certified lab has a staff of 12.

Meeting challenges

Team members work together to solve problems. When a contractor accidentally interrupted power to the plant, the electrical staff immediately went to the electrical building to start the 2 kW diesel-powered generators (Caterpillar Inc., Electric Power Division).

Then they went to the head of the plant to start a generator that operates one of the modules and the headhouse. The operators responded by heading to the outfall power station to reset and start the pumps, and then to the injection well pump station to reset and start those pumps.

They monitored the SCADA system and opened the surge basin to capture additional flow. Team members also went to the headhouse bypass gates, which needed to be manually operated during the power outage. All this happened concurrently, averting a large spill.

Kay says the staff handles urgent situations effectively. “It’s always challenging if they have to change the flow, but they do extremely well and react very quickly,” Darmanin says. “As we make capital-based changes, we have to take equipment offline, which stresses the system and the staff. Fortunately, the operators have a good handle on the process.”

The plant has weathered hurricanes Andrew (1992), Wilma (2005), and Irma (2017). Irma damaged the electrical system, affecting the collections system and the plant. “We were on generator power for quite some time,” Darmanin says. “We have six generators, each about the size of a tractor trailer, that can run the entire plant during a power outage.” Once a year, the plant team updates the emergency preparedness protocol and drills for actual scenarios.

The staff also deals with heavy rains that can create large flows from inflow and infiltration. Electrical storms can pose a daily threat during summer.

Continuous improvement

The North Regional facility will undergo major improvements over the next three to five years and continuous improvements over the next 20 years. These include:

  • A 16-million-gallon reclaimed water filter capacity expansion with high-level disinfection and pumping facilities.
  • Solids processing improvements, including digester covers, gas piping, air flotation thickeners, grit chamber rehabilitation, and an integrated power plan.
  • Conversion of three aeration modules from mechanical to fine-bubble aeration.
  • Effluent outfall pump station replacement.
  • Septage receiving facility improvements.
  • SCADA system replacement.

Darmanin says, “The reclaimed water filter capacity project will expand the use of reclaimed water for irrigation, thus reducing wastewater discharge. It will also reduce the use of raw water and increase water reserve recharge.” The project is designed to meet a state requirement for 60 percent reclaimed water usage by 2025.

Converting to fine-bubble aeration will save energy and reduce phosphorus and nitrogen discharges. “The upgrades will reduce maintenance and improve the effluent quality so the operators will be better equipped to meet future regulatory requirements,” Darmanin says. “With the new iFIX SCADA system (GE Digital), operators will have a more efficient tool at their disposal to monitor and adjust plant processes.”

Attracting talent

To ensure a pipeline of qualified operators as team members retire, the plant started an operator trainee program in 2016. It starts when a trainee is hired and continues throughout that person’s career. “This includes higher education, up to a master’s degree and training for advanced licensure and certifications,” Darmanin says. “Team members are encouraged to continue their education through tuition reimbursement opportunities and are also encouraged to move up the ranks to supervisor.”

An extensive library in the maintenance area contains drawings dating back to plant startup. Operators can use these to learn about the facility and recent upgrades. Operation and maintenance manuals, standard operating procedures, and electronic versions of operational and laboratory records are also available.

The trainee program and library both help ensure the plant’s continued success. “The future is bright,” Darmanin says. “This is largely attributed to the people who work here and have dedicated their lives to this organization. They have brought us to this point, and they are training our future leaders.”

No clogs allowed

Broward County (Florida) Water and Wastewater Services developed a campaign in 2010 to educate the public about proper disposal of fats, rags, oil and grease (FROG) with the goal of preventing sewer clogs and overflows. The slogan: “No FROG. No Clog.”

FROG comes to the county’s North Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant from the retail collections systems, regional large user transmission systems and the septage receiving facility. System surcharges occur when the collection lines and lift station pumps are clogged. To reduce the cost and time related to de-ragging of lift station pumps and discharge lines and removing grease, the department launched the FROG campaign jointly with the county Office of Public Communications.

The campaign targets the general public, homeowners’ associations, public works departments, utility companies and payment centers, businesses and students. A logo with a cartoon frog appears in materials like brochures, flyers, posters and bill stuffers.

Wastewater plant staff members are involved on a voluntary basis. “We also have other staff who attend outreach events, hand out material and answer questions,” says Mark Darmanin, director of operations.

The campaign has reached thousands of people during outreach events like Earth Day and National Drinking Water Week. Darmanin says, “The campaign has been a success, and it has reduced the number of de-ragging work orders.”


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