This Vermont Professional Brings a Special Level of Devotion to His Career and Communities

Award-winning operator Peter Krolczyk divides his time between a Vermont utility district and volunteer work for his faith organization.

This Vermont Professional Brings a Special Level of Devotion to His Career and Communities

Krolczyk checks the CoMag treatment system (Evoqua Water Technologies), which removes about 98% of phosphorus in the effluent.

With all his experience, Peter Krolczyk could have become a supervisor or a top-level technician for a large clean-water plant or for several plants.

He chose not to. Instead, he serves as chief wastewater treatment plant operator with the Edward Farrar Utility District in Waterbury, Vermont. It’s a job that allows him time to do volunteer work maintaining water and wastewater systems for Kingdom Hall churches of Jehovah’s Witnesses, his chosen religious organization.

His work for the Edward Farrar district earned him a 2018 Operator Excellence Award – Wastewater from the Green Mountain Water Environment Association.

Finding a direction

Krolczyk grew up in West Palm Beach, Florida. He got his start in the water industry by accident. Krolczyk recalls that he drifted after high school. He came within a semester of a bachelor’s degree in forestry at Florida State University. He tried the Marine Corps but was rejected because of a medical problem.

He played guitar and sang in his family’s band in country bars for a couple of years, then thought about working at the Juno Beach Fire Department where his brother-in-law was a lieutenant. There were no openings, but there was a slot available right next door as a maintenance worker at the wastewater plant.

“It was a great job because it was right on the ocean, not too far from home,” Krolczyk says. “And I needed a job.” After working there for a while, he found his career direction. He earned his state water and wastewater licenses and kept going.

“The job was so diversified,” Krolczyk says. “We were just a 0.3 mgd wastewater plant and basic filtration water plant. I thoroughly enjoyed it because we were doing so many things: operating heavy equipment, working on pumps and pump stations, doing lab work. I fell in love with it.”

A call to faith

After a few years, his religion provided his next career step. He volunteered to work for Watchtower, the world headquarters of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, then in Brooklyn, New York. He saw it as a privilege to be selected, and as a volunteer, all his needs were taken care of: housing, food, medical care and more.

Earlier in life, he had done some construction work. During 10 years with Watchtower, he developed those skills and also became a licensed welder. Then his supervisors learned he was a licensed water and wastewater operator.

The church had two water plants and one wastewater treatment plant at its satellite campus in Wallkill, New York, and was building another campus with larger treatment plants in Patterson, New York. He began as an operator and rose to supervise 40 people and oversee regulatory issues.

It helped that the church was using cutting-edge technology. In the 1990s, the Patterson facility was approved to use recycled wastewater to irrigate orchards. The facility used continuous backwash upflow dual sand filters. “At the time, dual sand systems could remove about 99.9% of cysts and harmful pathogens,” Krolczyk says.

Driving innovation

His experience opened doors in 2002 when he had to leave his Watchtower job because of back surgery related to a fall during construction work; sitting behind a desk seemed to make it worse. For his recuperation, a friend gave Krolczyk and his wife an apartment in Vermont for a year. They loved it, and while they were there, the job at Waterbury became available.

“I told the town my vocation was my ministry and not wastewater treatment,” Krolczyk says. He told district officials that he could turn their system around in two years and save money. It was no idle boast, and there was a need. Three different contractors had operated the plant for 17 years, and it was in poor condition. Although the plant met permit requirements, maintenance had been deferred, collections system maintenance was lacking, and there were no standard operating procedures or system drawings.

At Waterbury’s 0.51 mgd (design) plant, like at his job in Florida, Krolczyk does everything: repairing pumps, running the plant and lab, and managing biosolids. One of his first steps was to install variable-frequency drives, saving about $37,000 on energy in the first year.

The plant has the only CoMag treatment system (Evoqua Water Technologies) in Vermont and New Hampshire. The process settles solids rapidly by introducing magnetite particles that add mass to the floc.

Adoption of the technology in 2014 was driven by total maximum daily load limits on phosphorus for Lake Champlain. The plant discharges to the Winooski River, which flows into the lake. The CoMag system removes about 96% of phosphorus in the effluent from the plant’s 6 million-gallon lagoons, Krolczyk says.

“Before we built this, I spent two years and visited all the CoMag plants I could find over in Massachusetts so I could learn how to operate this plant,” he says. “I wanted to learn what things we wanted to make better and what things we wanted to avoid,” Krolczyk says.

The plant has 20 acres approved for land application of biosolids, which begins this year. Plans are to apply about 300 cubic yards per year of 80% solids material. Previously, biosolids were landfilled. The change will save a few thousand dollars per year, but the primary purpose is to get ahead of New England regulators who are focusing on per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) contamination of water. Waterbury began testing biosolids for PFAS before the state’s monitoring program took effect.

Still a volunteer

Krolczyk’s religious service work has continued for the 18 years since he started at Waterbury. As a volunteer, he is involved in maintaining Kingdom Hall churches and their wastewater and water systems. He has installed septic systems and helped congregations to obtain permits. The volunteer work accounts for 20 to 25 hours per week.

“My goal is to make enough money so I can work for free,” he says. “I’ve appreciated working here in Waterbury because it gives me the time to be fully engaged with my volunteer work.”

Opportunities have come knocking during his tenure at Waterbury. A few years ago, officials from Maui County in Hawaii called because they were pilot-testing a reverse osmosis system and needed someone with experience to oversee the process.

“I just love working with pilot tests and working with engineers, and they really needed someone,” Krolczyk says. “They offered me a pretty good position there for a couple of years, but I had been here 15 years at that time. We have our home. We have our life. Yes, I could have made a lot more money, but I’m very content here.” 

Advice for success

In summer 2019, he was eligible to retire with full benefits, but he’s not ready for that: “The only thing I’d do if I did retire would be to put in another 20 or 30 hours with my ministry and volunteer work.”

He has some advice for people who want to excel: “First is passion. You have to care deeply about what you do and be very interested in it. And I don’t care if it’s sweeping the floor; do the best you can.”

Second is good training. That means remaining curious and seeking out all the knowledge available. “With the Operator Excellence Award, I was privileged to be involved with an operator exchange program,” Krolczyk says. He spent a week at the Maine Water Environment Association conference and then met with the head of solids division at Casella Organics in Saco, Maine, where he learned about solids issues and PFAS problems.

Third is being patient: Succeeding takes time. “You’re going to have to do the grunt work. And it’s not just for paying dues. You’re learning valuable lessons about the system, about the plant. I can’t tell you how many contractors I see, and they’re putting in a simple 4-inch building sewer service and they’ve got the bell pointed in the wrong direction so it’s going to capture solids as water flows from the building. You can’t learn those things in a textbook.

“It’s kind of hard to believe it when you find work that you thoroughly enjoy. Sometimes I don’t even feel like I’m working.”   


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