We Are Family

Welch’s Water and Wastewater Services runs on strong family ties – and treats the clean-water facilities it operates like beloved children.

We Are Family

Terry Welch, shown recording sludge depth using a Raven Sludge Interface Detector, is president of Welch’s Water.

In 2020 when the North Woodstock Wastewater Treatment Plant won a U.S. EPA Regional Excellence Award, it was a career cap of sorts for Terence “Terry” Welch.

Welch is president of Welch’s Water and Wastewater Services, a family business established in 1991 that operates the plant in rural New Hampshire, just south of the Canadian border. The company operates multiple facilities in Northern New Hampshire.

The business has received several state, regional and national awards for operational excellence. Welch is the former licensed operator for the company. Sidelined some years ago by injuries, he now works part-time in support of his wife Kathleen “Kathy,” vice president, who is chief operator at the Woodstock facility and handles duties related to permits, compliance and laboratory techniques.

Their son Joshua Welch is treasurer and lead operator of a drinking water facility in Bethlehem, New Hampshire. He also serves, as his father did, as leader of the dive team, which performs underwater inspections and repairs in the plants the company manages. Daughter Hillary Welch is an administrative assistant and holds a Grade I wastewater operator license.

Learning the ropes

Before founding the company, Terry Welch worked with Boston-based Metcalf & Eddy, a holding company for nearly 2,000 environmental services and engineering firms. He also was an operator at the Resort Waste Services Wastewater Treatment Facility in Bretton Woods when it was built in 1988 in New Hampshire’s scenic White Mountains.

At first the Woodstock plant, serving North Woodstock, was operated in-house by Dale Witham and Bill Mellett, superintendent of water and wastewater. Terry and Kathy Welch learned about the importance of a work ethic from them.

“Those guys ran the system since day one, for 30 years, before they called us in 2002,” he recalls. “They were on call 24/7. And in the old days there were no pagers; you had to stand by a telephone. I said to them when we had our interview, ‘You haven’t had a vacation?’

“And they said, ‘We live in Vacationland. We’re on vacation all the time.’

“You should see how hard these guys worked — almost 11,000 days straight without a day off, without a sick day. Every day they showed up with a sense of humor and a smile. We just loved when we had the chance to work for them. They called us to help them because we had some new rules and regulations for doing Department of Environmental Services (DES) and U.S. EPA reporting.”

Into the future

The Welch’s team carried on that work ethic when the municipal operators retired, and it continues today. Welch observes. “Those guys wove it into us. It’s so nice to really have pride in your facility, from A to Z. Be happy with each job you do, whether you’re painting, scraping, adjusting or fixing pumps, or doing lab work. With this attitude, Kathy has been operating the Woodstock Facility with 95% of the original 51-year-old equipment.

“We still talk to Bill. He’s like an older brother to us. Any time we have a question, I can give him a call and he’ll stop down and say, ‘Gee whiz, I don’t remember. But I think we did it like this.’ And he remembers.”

In taking on the Woodstock facility, the Welch’s team took a proactive approach to keeping it running reliably. “We maintain the equipment,” Welch says. “It’s like a well-run ship. In the Navy, everything was clean. Everything was painted. When something needed to be fixed, it didn’t get put off. It got fixed right away.” 

All about attitude

The approach has paid off. The Woodstock facility was one of only three in New England to receive the EPA award. The 0.34 mgd (design) activated sludge plant has screening and grit removal, three oxidation ditches, clarification and chlorine disinfection (Hydro Instruments). Effluent discharges to the Pemigewasset River.

About 9,000 gallons per week of biosolids at 1% solids is sent to the Winnipesaukee River Basin Program Wastewater Treatment Plant in Franklin, New Hampshire.

The plant serves about 600 residents; the biggest demand comes from tourists: skiing and snowboarding in the mountains in winter, then hiking, fishing and other activities in warm weather. Shops, restaurants and lodging businesses cater to the crowds, all feeding the gravity collection system, managed by the Department of Public Works.

“We were hired specifically to run the treatment plant,” Welch says. “Because of our knowledge of collection systems, we assist them, just like the DPW helps us when we have a problem. Kathy just needs to pick up the phone and so much support will come from the DPW. It saves the community a lot of money, as opposed to having contractors come in and do the same duties.”

Reading the market

Welch sees his company’s success as a function of his intuition about a market need, his family’s collective hustle, knowing the right people and having a “we’ll find a way” attitude.

“I saw an opening in water and wastewater where there are a lot of facilities that are part time,” he says. “Some of our jobs are a half hour a day, just checking and making sure the chemicals are running right. So we didn’t go to the people, people came to us.

“We were well-known from the DES. They can’t recommend us, but they did say, ‘These guys do it right.’ And that’s how Woodstock got our telephone number. We were already running 11 systems at the time, and there were only five of us. We had one other operator who wasn’t a family member. It was a lot of work, a lot of travel.

“Our niche is ‘What do you need?’ Do you need a backup operator? A laboratory person? Do you want us to just take charge and run the facility? If they need us for a day, a week, a month, a year, or years, we’re there for them. I’ve had the pleasure of working with many good operators, and it’s amazing what they’ll do to save the day. It’s pretty spectacular. They’re like firemen and policemen, but nobody notices.”

Branching out

One line of business is doing dives to clean, inspect and repair water and wastewater systems. Like his father, Terry Welch was a U.S. Navy diver. 

“I started diving at 12, getting lobsters off of Salisbury Beach,” he says. “I was so proud to get food on the table.” After he left the Navy, he did mostly recreational diving; when he moved to the Northwoods, he believed he’d never dive again. “But I’ve dived more since I’ve been up here than I ever did in the Navy or when I was younger.”

It all started with drinking water. “I think it was 1989, might have been 1990, a big resort area, had a bad total coliform hit. They did repeats and got it again. I was working at the wastewater plant and knew the water system operators. I collected samples all over the place to isolate this total coliform problem.”

It turned out to be in the reservoir; about 300 dead mice lay on the bottom. “So we hooked up a pump. I dived into the reservoir and vacuumed out all the mice and sediments. Within 48 hours, we had clean plates. That got around through the area, and I decided to buy some commercial diving equipment to keep doing it.”

Diving right in

He found he could get a lot of business diving into lagoons to repair aeration tubing, instead of pumping the lagoon down. He thought, “I can fix all this stuff without pumping one gallon of water if I have the right equipment. I got my first diving job in Bethlehem.

“Another company’s quote to redo the aeration system was $150,000-$170,000, and we did it for $20,000. We got real popular. I dived in maybe 50 lagoons in New Hampshire, Maine and Vermont. If it wasn’t for Kathy’s knowledge and can-do attitude, our dive team wouldn’t have materialized. She knew all the operational techniques, emergency protocols and duties. When I was on dive jobs, Kathy handled many obstacles on her own.”

Joshua Welch is the licensed lead diver, but the jobs are so dangerous that Terry hires two other divers, at a cost of $4,000 per day, to fulfill safety regulations. It’s all part of a job he loves: “The treatment plants are like our kids. We love them. Some of them misbehave and some are mischievous; but all in all, they do an excellent job.”

He wears his pride on his sleeve. “Love your job,” he says. “If you don’t love the job, go someplace else. It’s really important to love what you do, and we love making clean water. I have goosebumps right now, just thinking about it. Water has been my life. And to be able to keep the rivers clean, that’s why we worked so hard.”   


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