Here’s a Chance to Show Your Mettle for Solving Problems in Clever and Low-Cost Ways

Clean-water and drinking water operators show creativity and resourcefulness in finding simple and low-cost, yet effective solutions to plant problems.

We hear this kind of story fairly often. Faced with a $100,000 remedy for a treatment plant problem, the operations team finds a way to solve it for $5,000 or less.

Both the Water Environment Federation and the American Water Works Association have ways to recognize operating teams for that kind of cleverness and creativity. WEF calls it the annual Operator Ingenuity Contest and announces the winners each year at the WEFTEC conference.

AWWA calls it the Gimmicks & Gadgets Contest. Winners are featured each year in the October issue of the association’s Opflow magazine and are honored at the Water Infrastructure Conference, also in October.

You can enter these contests by following instructions found on the organizations’ websites (see below). By taking part, you can earn recognition for yourself, your team and your community or utility while inspiring others in the profession to put their ingenuity to work.


Here are some of the 2021 Operator Ingenuity Contest winners:

Goodbye I/I Award. Seven inventors from the Truckee (California) Sanitary District found a simple way to stop inflow and infiltration from manholes. They found significant I&I coming from the annular space between the cast iron frames and covers. As a fix, they applied a bead of pipe thread compound to the frame, making the annular space watertight. Those involved were Matt Ruge, Ryan Clifton, Rene Lopez, Mike Donchez, Eric Sundale, Ray Brown and Blake Tresa.

Mixing It Up Award. Mickey Groves at the Cripple Creek wastewater treatment plant in Colorado invented a single jar stirrer to run flocculated settleometer tests for process control. He made the device from two settleometers, a motor and a paddle from an old jar tester. The upper compartment is sealed and houses the motor. The lower compartment has two baffles that create turbulence to ensure adequate mixing. The tool is used for single-jar tests to verify correct chemical dosing.

Dosing in the Dark Award. Mike Hughes and Lani Somasunderam from the Lulu Island Wastewater Treatment Plant in Richmond, British Columbia, built a simple system to ensure continuous dosing of sodium bisulfite solution during power interruptions. It uses municipal water pressure with an eductor to draw a 38% solution from a drum. A solenoid valve on the waterline de-energizes to allow water to flow into the eductor. The chemical is then injected into the primary dosing discharge piping and flows into the existing diffuser.

Silt Blaster Award. Moyle Johnson from Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah came up with a quick way to clearing silt from valve boxes that had not been maintained. To clear them he used hydrant water pressure. He combined a 1.75-inch smooth-bore nozzle and valve with a 1-inch tip, a length of hose and a length of PVC pipe. Water from the nozzle breaks up the silt, dirt, rocks and debris and washes it all away.


Here are two Gimmicks & Gadgets award winners from 2021 as reported in Opflow magazine:

Swabbie Hand Pig. John Lins, utility incident manager with the Des Moines (Iowa) Water Works, developed this device for cleaning and disinfecting any length or diameter of pipe before it is installed in a main repair project. The device consists of a 4-inch-thick light foam swab that attaches to a mounting head and a handle. The swab is dipped in 1% bleach solution and then is pushed and pulled through the pipe to remove debris and leave a chlorine residual.

Meter Box Night Light. Mike Blake, a customer service specialist with the city of Central Point, Oregon, came up with an LED lighting system for a curb stop meter lid tool. The device recognizes the reality that flashlight can be hard to find in a nighttime emergency. This tool has one LED mounted at the end and another on the belly for inspecting or reading meters in the dark. They’re operated by a single toggle switch. The retrofit cost just over $5 and took about an hour and a half to complete.

To find out more about these ingenuity contests, visit: Gadgets-Contest technology/operator-ingenuity  


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