A Dedicated Team, Hard Work and a Supportive Board Spell Success in Springfield, Illinois

The operations team helped design a new treatment plant and continuously optimize its performance in Springfield, Illinois.

A Dedicated Team, Hard Work and a Supportive Board Spell Success in Springfield, Illinois

Brian Tucker, operations supervisor

In building a new treatment plant, the Sangamon County (Illinois) Water Reclamation District wanted it to be a good neighbor.

The Spring Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant, built in 1929, had surpassed its useful life. “We’re next door to the Illinois State Fairgrounds, and we had the typical wastewater treatment plant reputation,” says Brian Tucker, operations supervisor. “We wanted to change that. We wanted to be environmentally conscious and find ways to work smarter instead of harder.”

The new plant was completed in 2012. Since then, its dedicated team has met the district’s goals with hard work and a supportive board of trustees. Tucker says, “We give employees the tools and training they need, because the more training they have, the more valuable or high-performance they become.”

Operators are encouraged to offer feedback to management. “Each operator understands that the better they do their job, the better they make us all look,” Tucker says. “Through their commitment and hard work, they give 110 percent.”

Challenges have included operating the old plant while the new one was built and switching from a manual to automated operation with all new technology. It was worthwhile: The plant received a 2017 Plant of the Year award from the Illinois Association of Water Pollution Control Operators (greater than 7.5 mgd).

From old to new

The Spring Creek plant is one of two treatment plants owned by the Sangamon County district. With a design flow of 32 mgd, the biological nutrient removal plant is one of the largest in the state.

The district’s other facility, the Sugar Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant, was built in 1973 as a 10 mgd contact stabilization facility. In 2017, the district built a new 37.5 mgd Sugar Creek BNR facility to handle the community’s rapid growth.

Today, the plants together serve almost 170,000 people in the Springfield metro area. Both are activated sludge facilities, run by 11 operators and eight relief operators. An on-site laboratory is one of the few fully accredited publicly owned labs in the state. Lab technicians and chemists collect samples from streams above and below the plant and from monitoring wells biosolids application sites at both plants.

Although the Spring Creek plant was updated in the 1950s, 1970s and 1990s, it had exceeded its original limit of 20 mgd by 2004. Growth, aging equipment and strict regulations required a solution.

Secondary process

The new Spring Creek plant was built in four phases over five years. Wastewater enters the headworks, consisting of coarse screens (JWC Environmental), fine screens (Veolia Water Technologies/John Meunier), grit removal (Veolia Water Technologies/John Meunier), and channel odor/gas control with dual-bed granular activated carbon filtration (Met-Pro Environmental Air Solutions/HEE-Duall, a CECO Environmental Co.).

The wastewater is then sent to four primary clarifiers (WesTech Engineering). Clarified water is sent to the activated sludge tanks, consisting of 12 vertical-loop reactors (Evoqua Water Technologies) and then to COP suction header secondary clarifiers (WesTech Engineering). 

Return activated sludge pumps (Pentair - Fairbanks Nijhuis) recirculate biomass from to the vertical-loop reactors. Effluent is sent to UV disinfection aquaray (Suez/Ozonia North America). Final effluent goes down cascade aerators to the Sangamon River. “We created our own cascade, or waterfall,” Tucker says. “Although this is uncommon in the industry, it is extremely effective, saving huge electrical dollars to accomplish post aeration.”

During wet weather when the river is above flood stage, the bottom three steps of the cascade are submerged. In this case, a post-aeration blower (Aerzen) adds air to achieve the desired dissolved oxygen level. 

Sustainable plant

When building the Spring Creek plant, the district looked at its environmental impact. Some of the effluent is used to irrigate the plant’s landscaping and clean equipment. A green roof on the UV building helps keep down energy costs. The plant also has carbon filters that treat air from various processes, removing 99 percent of odors.

The staff has access to pipes and fittings via 1,900 feet of underground corridors. Motion-activated lights in the tunnels and natural lighting in the buildings conserve energy. “Our team loves these underground corridors,” Tucker says. “If a valve needs replacing, there is no excavation, restoration, or downtime.” Operators also stay warmer in winter.  

Two stormwater ponds collect water from the fairgrounds and nearby areas. Wetlands and prairie plantings help maintain the natural environment: “We planted buffalo grass, a prairie grass, which also lowers our grounds maintenance,” Tucker says.

The solids side of the process emphasizes beneficial use. Primary and waste activated sludges are anaerobically digested and sent to three 1.5-million-gallon biosolids storage tanks at about 3 percent solids. Each tank has a Rotomix system (Vaughan) to prevent freezing in winter. A fourth tank holds clear filtrate from later dewatering.

In late spring and summer, liquid biosolids are applied via fixed irrigation sprayers to the district 15-acre canary grass farm, from which a farmer harvests 400 to 450 1-ton bales of hay per year. During wetter and colder seasons, the biosolids are dosed with polymer and dewatered to 21 to 25 percent solids on two screw presses (HUBER Technology). The press filtrate is applied to the canary grass field.

The cake biosolids are either land-applied directly with a spreader truck or windrowed and aerated with a Brown Bear 500 Hydrostatic Tractor in an open-sided storage building, raising the solids content to 50 to 60 percent.

The digesters produce up to 100,000 cubic feet of biogas per day. About half is used to heat the digesters and for other heating on the plant complex. 

Constant improvement

Tucker credits the staff for the facility’s Plant of the Year award: “We won because of their consistent and maximum effort. They worked with the engineers to design and build the plant and exhibited team spirit.” The team is always looking to excel. “We don’t seek the norm, but constantly focus on trying to improve; ‘good enough’ is never good enough,” Tucker says. “That means we can do better.”

The district staff of 68 (31 wastewater certified and five laboratory accredited) is highly experienced; many have been with the district for more than 10 years. The staff consists of operations, maintenance, laboratory, labor, GIS and administration. They operate and maintain two major facilities, 30 lift stations and the collections system.

Tucker holds Class 1 wastewater operator certification, has been with the district for seven years and has 42 years in the field. Stephen Sanderfield, assistant operations supervisor, is also Class 1 certified. The operations team includes:

Head operators Jeff Feurer and John Stephens.

Operators Edward Starrick, Tim Beck, Nick Stoutamyer, Thomas Paoni, Bradley Schaive, Kenneth Shrake, Kenneth Fitzgerald, Clint Grolla and Danny Mills.

Relief operators James Chestnut, Kyle Fawns, Ron Hickman, James Rychel, David Hanson, Aaron Alexander, Harlin Swofford and Chris Macklin.

All operators and most relief operators are certified. Also certified are a laboratory supervisor, a parts purchasing employee, a labor foreman, a laborer and nine maintenance employees. Second shift operators at the Spring Creek plant monitor both facilities from the plant’s SCADA system, which operates both plants during the third shift.

Fully automated

In designing the new Spring Creek plant, the operators had input in areas from equipment selection to sidewalk and lighting placement. “We wanted to make it operator-friendly,” Tucker says.

Tucker emphasizes that the plant stayed in compliance while the new one was built and started up. “During startup, we had to move tons of biomass within 24 hours,” Tucker says. The contractor and operators worked overtime.

The learning curve was steep. “It was what I would call sticker shock,” Tucker says. “We went from a manual to a totally automated plant. At the old plant, instrumentation was minimal. There were a few flowmeters that simply recorded flow, and controls were simply switches, hand-operated valves, and manually adjusted equipment. Suddenly, operators were thrust decades into the future.”

The SCADA system was a completely new way of operating: “Each operator was given a smartphone for accessing the system. They quickly learned how to operate in that environment.” The system made operators’ lives much easier.

Online instrumentation and equipment automation gives them information in real time and makes operating multiple heavy valves and gates a one-person operation instead of a job for a crew. Isolating an 860,000-gallon aeration tank used to involve six to eight people and take one to two days. Now, with a few mouse clicks, one operator can do the job in eight hours.

Catching curveballs

Weather plays a huge role at Spring Creek. Much of downtown Springfield’s collections system dates to the 1920s and 1930s, and that means inflow and infiltration challenges. Rainfall has a dramatic effect. Average dry-weather flows range from 22-27 mgd; within hours of a rainfall of an inch or more, flows can double, triple or quadruple.

“On occasion, nature has thrown us a few curveballs,” Tucker says. “Instrumentation and automation have one very big enemy — lightning.” Although the plant has a dual power source, surges or power spikes can be a big problem.

“During the Illinois State Fair in August 2016, a lightning storm struck our facility and caused over $40,000 in damage to our SCADA network. We had to switch to manual operation.” Operators and maintenance workers were called in to operate the plant 24 hours a day while repairing numerous systems. “With total commitment by the team, we kept the facility operating and in compliance.”

Future challenges

With a beautiful new plant, a stellar team, and a supportive board, it may seem that the Sangamon County Water Reclamation District has it made. Tucker feels the team’s greatest continuing challenge is to make the two plants even more efficient. A key aim is to stave off rate hikes by reducing chemical, energy and biosolids costs.

The team would like to use biogas to heat the entire complex. Tucker says, “During the colder months, we would have to make more gas to supply our total needs. In summer, we could not only supply all our needs but fuel generators, which would reduce our electrical dependency. That translates to savings for our rate payers.”

The district works continuously to improve the combined sewer network. The goal is to improve the structures and water quality by diverting flows more directly to the plant for treatment during storm events.

As for the Sugar Creek plant, it has been streamlined to run as efficiently as the Spring Creek plant: “It has been nominated for the 2018 Illinois Plant of the Year award, and we hope to win.”  

For now, the operations team is content. Tucker says, “We have almost zero turnover. We retire operators; we don’t lose them to other facilities. The district realizes that if we’re going to spend time and money training our staff and making them high-performance, then we always need to take care of them.”

Wade the Water Drop

The Sangamon County (Illinois) Water Reclamation District wanted a video of the new Spring Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant to show the public during tours. Brian Tucker, operations supervisor, says, “We give over a dozen tours a year to school groups, civic groups and engineering firms. We wanted a video to show what happens to wastewater from the point it leaves the home, through reclamation and to the receiving waters.”

The video needed to appeal to a wide age group and be entertaining for elementary school students, but not too simple for the college student or engineer. “We put together a video tour, starting at the sewer main and then through each phase of treatment,” Tucker says. “But we needed a tour guide, so to speak.”

Engineers at Crawford, Murphy & Tilly, who helped design the plant, came up with the perfect solution. “An animated water drop named Wade was our answer,” Tucker says. “Wade is the tour guide throughout the video, starting out dirty and getting cleaner through each process. He finally gets a tan in the UV building.”

Wade was such a hit that Gregg Humphrey, district executive director, decided it would be great to have a Wade the Water Drop squishy toy to give to school kids during plant tours. Tucker says, “What’s funny is that everyone wanted a Wade toy. Adults ask for their own Wade as much as the kids do!”


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