Ingenuity Winner: Larry Bastian's Creative Brain Improves Operations at DC Water

Some people are tinkerers — they just love fixing things. Larry Bastian has used that skill to improve plant process in the most creative ways imaginable.
Ingenuity Winner: Larry Bastian's Creative Brain Improves Operations at DC Water
To measure solids concentrations at different levels in the sludge blanket, Bastian modified a Sludge Judge by placing sample ports in the bottom 5-foot section.

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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.

When Larry Bastian goes home at night, he can’t wait to find something to fix.

“I love to fix things myself,” he says. “It gives me pleasure to do that, rather than going to Home Depot and buying something.”

He’s the same way at work, and his ingenuity has helped DC Water save money and improve operations. “I’m the first guy they hand the phone to,” he says, referring to calls from people trying to figure out something or make something work.

His creativity and resourcefulness have resulted in two Operator Ingenuity awards — one for a portable nitrate analyzer and another for a Sludge Judge modification that allows TSS concentration profiles at different levels.

“We needed a portable nitrate analyzer, and there wasn’t one on the market back then,” he recalls, describing the first invention.

A golf cart, cigarette lighter adapter, length of rope, and a brass fitting and a chain later, he had modified a standard Hach sc100 NITRATAX analyzer so it could take readings all around the plant.

Bastian explains the rope, chain and brass fitting are attached to the analyzer, and the top of the probe is sealed with caulk. The cigarette lighter adapter is positioned in the golf cart, providing power for the analyzer at various locations.

“It’s a one-man operation,” Bastian says. “The analyzer is suspended from the railing (into the water) with the rope so there’s no pressure on the power cable. The analyzer stabilizes in less than two minutes as we move from site to site around the plant.”

The entire apparatus can be carried in a couple of 5-gallon plastic pails.


“We got all the materials at the hardware store (he did go to Home Depot!) for less than $100,” Bastian says.

The modified Sludge Judge cost even less — around $20 for nylon fittings and clip valves, tubing and silicon glue. Bastian drilled holes (carefully so as not to split the Sludge Judge tube) every 6 inches up and down the lower section of the tube. The holes are marked with red tape every foot and green tape at the half-foot or 6-inch intervals.

The modified tube is lowered into the sludge blanket and after it fills, it’s withdrawn from the blanket, and samples are collected and recorded from each of the holes — giving the operator a detailed look at the TSS concentrations every six inches.

“Every sludge blanket is different,” says Bastian. “We had a need to profile TSS concentrations at different elevations.”

Because some settling can occur before the readings are taken, Bastian recommends operators take two samples and average them.

Where do the ideas come from?

“From the deepest bowels of my brain,” says Bastian, who is a process technician with DCWater, but has been an operator, foreman and general foreman during his 36 years with the utility.

“He’s a creative, inventive guy,” says Pam Mooring, DC Water’s communications director.

The flashes of operations brilliance are not the only product of Bastian’s innovative mind. He’s an accomplished photographer and graphic designer, and is self-taught in Photoshop.

His work has illustrated the campaigns of DC Water’s Centrifugal Force team at the Operations Challenge competition each year.

“We’ve won a couple of times for most creative team photos,” he says. “It’s not easy (creating the team photo), but it’s a lot of fun to capture the team spirit, the camaraderie of the members.”

He’s also photographed friends, family and a few weddings. And he’s off this fall to Yosemite National Park in California — to further apply his photographic skills. Don’t be surprised if some shots are award-winners.


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