Ingenuity Winner: How Yellow Springs Color-Coded a Treatment Plant

Finding the correct building is easy in Yellow Springs, thanks to an innovative idea from plant manager Joe Bates.
Ingenuity Winner: How Yellow Springs Color-Coded a Treatment Plant
The color-coded building at the Yellow Springs Water Reclamation Facility earned plant manager Joe Bates and Operator Ingenuity Award at WEFTEC.

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Editor’s Note: We will be highlighting the winners of WEF’s Operator Ingenuity Winners in an ongoing series on our website. The winners of this annual contest are asked to present at WEFTEC each year. Have a great idea yourself? Learn more about the award, the categories and the competition here.


Quick now, name something that’s red, orange, blue, yellow and lavender.

A bouquet of flowers? An advertisement for ice cream cones?

Not even close. It’s the wastewater treatment plant in Yellow Springs, Ohio, (pop. 3,500) where plant manager Joe Bates has had the buildings painted in different colors. The novel approach won the plant a 2012 Water Environment Federation Operator Ingenuity Award, and actually helps Bates direct people to various parts of his 600,000 gpd operation.

“Yellow Springs is an artsy town — a tourist attraction,” Bates explains. “Many of the buildings (in town) are painted different colors. Lavender is especially popular.”

So when he took over the city’s biological phosphorus removal treatment plant a few years ago, and started to upgrade maintenance and overall plant operations, he decided to follow the local color scheme.

“I asked the painting contractor if there was any difference in price if we used different colors of paint for each building, and he said no, so that’s how it got started,” Bates says. “He was new at estimating larger jobs, so I guess he didn’t figure on the cost of cleaning out the sprayers and switching colors.”

When the job was finished the “most dangerous” buildings, in Joe’s words — the influent works and the gas chlorine building — were red and orange.

The administration building and the labs and lunchroom are painted the colors of Yellow Springs’ city logo: yellow and pencil yellow, which has a touch of gold in it.

The garage is blue and yellow, the primary building is turquoise, and the pump room and RAS building are lavender, which matches many of the houses in Yellow Springs.

Bates says he hasn’t used green yet, but plans to on the effluent shed in the near future to illustrate how “green” the treatment plant has become on his watch.

When he introduced the color scheme, Bates said he got a lot of questions. One of his answers was that the colors appealed to the visual senses and took attention away from the sense of smell, although he says, “the plant doesn’t smell anyway.”

The color scheme has received good reviews. “People like it, and they tell me how much it adds to the community,” Bates says. It’s also pretty obvious where the Yellow Springs Treatment Plant is, unlike some other places where the plant is pretty much out of sight and out of mind.

The array of hues is useful in other ways.

“During construction, if we had a meeting, I’d just tell people to get together in the blue building. Unless you are color blind,” he says, “you didn’t have to know what process building the gathering was in.”

Also, as a bonus for safety and emergency situations, Bates can easily direct EMTs to the  correct place by referring to a building color. Fortunately, that hasn’t happened yet.

In addition to the Operator Ingenuity Award, the Yellow Springs plant is in the process of receiving the Burke Award — the highest safety award given by the Ohio Water Environment Association. 



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