Pride Bursts Forth as a Virginia Clean-Water Facility Wins a Plant of the Year Award

The Waynesboro Wastewater Treatment Plant delivers quality effluent with new equipment, a sound maintenance program and a devoted staff.

Pride Bursts Forth as a Virginia Clean-Water Facility Wins a Plant of the Year Award

A lab technician reviews bacteria counts using a PentaView digital microscope (Celestron).

From wastewater plant management to the operational staff, Public Works department, and community, pride was busting out all over Waynesboro after the town won the 2018 Virginia Rural Water Association Plant of the Year.

“We received the award at the association’s annual conference, and we took it back for a special presentation at the next City Council meeting,” recalls Ross Morland, P.E., plant engineer. “The mayor presented the award to the plant staff, and members of the council congratulated them and thanked them for their hard work. There were handshakes all around. We’d received pats on the back and local appreciation in the past, but the state award was a first for us.”

While Morland is pleased with the honors he and his staff have received, he’s not surprised. Located in the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Waynesboro plant meets a stringent discharge permit for biological nutrient removal, hits nearly all its key performance indicators, and is staffed by a dedicated group of operators who take a personal interest in the plant’s success. “Everybody’s willing to pitch in and help out,” Morland says. “I couldn’t ask for a better group of employees.”

Major upgrade

In the old days, Waynesboro operated a 1954 trickling filter plant designed for 4 mgd. Upgrades in 1967 and 1989 added traveling bridge sand filters for tertiary treatment and rotating biological contactors as a polishing step to meet lower BOD requirements.

The system experienced frequent sanitary sewer overflows and faced a consent order to improve its collections system and to expand treatment plant capacity to handle excess flows. Working with the Hazen and Sawyer design firm, the city began an upgrade to 6 mgd in 2006 and finished the $32.6 million project in August 2010.

At the head end of the new plant, a bypass manually cleaned bar screen and two automatic mechanical screens (all from MN Water Treatment Products) remove rags and debris. Two 350 gpm vortex cyclone units (E & I Corporation a Div. of McNish Corporation) remove grit after the flow passes through a Parshall flume to a pair of tanks for a five-stage Bardenpho activated sludge process designed for BNR.

In the first stage, anaerobic treatment occurs, followed by the anoxic zone, then an aerobic zone, a second anoxic zone, and the final aeration zone. Philadelphia Mixing Solutions’ mixers mix the contents, and Sanitaire - a Xylem Brand fine-bubble diffusers disperse air delivered by three Aerzen blowers.

Treated water settles in a pair of circular clarifiers before passing through a six-layer gravel bed filter. Disinfection occurs in a three-channel TrojanUV3000Plus UV unit with low-pressure, high-intensity lamps. Alum is fed for phosphorus removal in a splitter box and in the return activated sludge pump station. Carbon is fed at the start of the second anoxic zone in the BNR tanks for denitrification.

A Siemens Industry Process Instrumentation HydroRanger 200 ultrasonic level transmitter measures influent and effluent wet well levels, chemical tank levels and effluent flow. High-quality effluent is released through a cascading aeration channel before discharge to the South River. The plant achieves exceptional annual average discharge concentrations of 1.17 mg/L total nitrogen and 0.11 mg/L total phosphorus. It also meets tight limits for TSS, CBOD and ammonia called for by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, or VDEQ.

Biosolids are anaerobically digested. The primary digester features Jetco mixers, Weir Specialty Pumps (WEMCO) chopper pumps and an external heat exchanger. The primary and secondary digesters are covered by Envirex (Evoqua Water Technologies) Dystor digester covers. Solids are thickened before addition to the digesters, then dewatered on two belt presses. The resulting cake is landfilled.

Keys to success

Waynesboro has also made strides in preventive maintenance and asset management. “Our planned maintenance management program was established about two years ago,” Morland says. “We’re getting all our data into the database (Cartegraph) so we can plot inspection schedules and rotation of equipment. In the past we were simply following a spreadsheet. Now when guys get caught up for the day, they can go to PM schedule and stay ahead of it.”

It’s the same way with asset management. “It was made easier with a brand-new plant,” Morland says. “Now we’re able to define the critical needs and life expectancy of each piece of equipment. It’s been a huge improvement.” Waynesboro uses a list of key performance indicators to track success and share progress with operators, as well as its director and town manager and members of the Town Council. Specific indicators include:

  • Compliance with regulations
  • Number of overflows in the sewer system and pump stations
  • Planned versus unplanned maintenance
  • Cost of treatment versus a five-year average
  • Level of fulfillment of staff positions
  • Staff training hours
  • Lost-time work days
  • Number of customer concerns and complaints.

The team met nearly all the targets in 2017. The indicators are important for measuring department successes, for budget planning, and for operator communications, Morland says. “We share the results with staff. They can see our goals and what we are trying to achieve.”

Boosting morale

That information may be one reason the Waynesboro staff has such a positive attitude. “Each of us looks forward to coming to work each day,” Morland says. “There’s a strong workplace culture here. Lines of communication are open. There’s no micromanagement. Operators are free to approach their tasks on a day-to-day basis and choose what they want to work on.”

The team includes Scott Balsley, chief operator; Ted Brown, Matt Neyman, Dustin Fisher and Robb Peterson, operators; Cliff Doughty, chief maintenance technician; Brad Williams and Jakob Long, maintenance workers; Marvin Godbey, lab director; and Tony Reed, lab technician. The staff gets together frequently for meetings. “We work together on problems and talk over ways to resolve them,” Morland says. “Everybody comes together to help with studying and understanding the treatment process and what our different roles are. Whether it’s replacing a piece of equipment, or fixing a pump station, or what kind of pizza to have for lunch, everybody has buy-in. That goes a long way toward creating a unified group of operators. Working together smoothly helps keep morale high.”

Staff input is based on solid knowledge. All five operators are state licensed, as are both laboratory technicians and one of the maintenance specialists. All are cross-trained. “Nobody is afraid to jump in and help out,” Morland says. The town provides an incentive for continued education by offering a 5 percent wage hike to operators who attain each higher license level.

“Our operators are having continued success,” Morland says. “They all bring something personally and professionally to the table. They’re moving up. Our former chief operator, Troy Eppard, was recently recruited by the VDEQ for his excellent work in the industry and will be missed.”

Challenges ahead

Morland, who was born and raised in Waynesboro, received his engineering degree from Old Dominion University, and worked for a consulting firm before joining the Waynesboro team in 2011, sees challenges ahead. “We’re fortunate to have a brand-new plant, start to finish, but in the future, we’ll have to abide by any new regulations on our discharge. And looking ahead two to three years, some of our major equipment will need upgrades or at least serious evaluation.”

Continued implementation of the preventive maintenance and asset management systems is also on the list: “We need to stay on top of things. Aging equipment repairs and replacement will be our biggest challenges.”

The staff is up to the challenges. In the plant’s Virginia Rural Water Association award nomination, Morland wrote, “Since coming online in 2010, the plant has developed a fantastic workplace environment that fosters employee engagement and team support through positive energy, open communications, and strong worker-coworker relationships.”

While the award judges may not have experienced the camaraderie in person, they could no doubt sense it when they chose Waynesboro as the Plant of the Year.

Getting with the public

Waynesboro doesn’t hide its wastewater treatment plant from the public. It’s in full view at a number of community events, and students and community groups tour the facility regularly.

“We do a lot with our school kids all the way through high school and college,” says Ross Morland, P.E., plant engineer. “All our staff members were born here or near here. They take a lot of pride in the treatment plant and actively participate in school tours and public events.”

Tours are only one part of the program. At the community’s annual fly-fishing exposition on the South River, and at Public Works Day, the entire Public Works department, the treatment plant, and its staff are on display. “I think it’s a major reason why we won the Virginia Rural Water Association award,” Morland says.

The flyfishing event takes place over two weekends each spring and brings hundreds to the riverbank in the middle of town to watch demonstrations, learn about fish and fishing, and try their hand at hooking a native rainbow or brook trout, or a planted smallmouth or largemouth bass.

The wastewater treatment plant has an informational booth at the event, promoting environmental conservation and showing the public how the plant helps protect the South River, a tributary to the Shenandoah River and part of the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

People also learn about the plant at the annual Public Works Day, which Waynesboro hosts in conjunction with a national program conducted by the American Public Works Association. The days include a catered lunch for the Public Works staff and special recognition for deserving employees, followed by games, demonstrations, and crafts for the public.

“We usually start the open house in midafternoon, and it lasts until 8 p.m.,” Morland says. He estimates that last year about 300 people showed up to enjoy the day and learn about Public Works operations and water quality. Still, the tours — about 10 per year — are the backbone of the public education effort. The tours involve public, private and home-schooled children, university students and professors, and special interest and environmental groups. “We’ve developed good relationships with the teachers, including science teachers at each elementary school and teachers in the gifted and talented programs,” Morland says.

Jo-el Nelson, who teaches an Advanced Placement environmental science courses at the Shenandoah Valley Governor’s School about 15 minutes from the plant, agrees. “It’s fascinating for our students to see all the treatment processes in our community,” she says. “It’s really cool to learn where the water goes from our homes and industries, and to see how they do things at the plant like fixing leaking pipes with balloons and using robots. It’s a lot better than seeing things in a textbook.”

Nelson has 14 to 20 seniors in each class. She says many of the students go on to careers in environmental sciences. The Waynesboro plant staff also works directly with high school and college students, offering internships and mentoring programs. It’s not unusual for older students to take an interest in the plant and job shadow or end up as summer employees.


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