Flight Path: 5 Beautiful Wastewater Treatment Plant Aerials

What happens when a dedicated wastewater treatment operator earns a pilot’s license? Answer: One of the most unique hobbies you can image.
Flight Path: 5 Beautiful Wastewater Treatment Plant Aerials
The Leominster Wastewater Treatment Plant tops the Marcel Tremblay's favorites lists. Tremblay aerial photography has ties together his two passions: wastewater treatment and flying.

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About 12 years ago, Marcel Tremblay earned his pilot’s license and began a hobby that combined two of his passions: wastewater treatment and flying. Tremblay noticed airports and wastewater treatment plants are often located close to each other, so he began taking aerial photos of the plants and arranging plant tours for when he landed. His fly-over features soon become a regular component of Mass Waters, the Massachusetts Water Pollution Control Association’s newsletter, which Tremblay edits.

Since then, Tremblay has flown to nearly every corner of the state as he explores various wastewater treatment systems.

“From the front office of my little Cessna, I admire the view of an entire town from several thousand feet,” he says. “I envision the collection system tying it all together, leading to the treatment facility. The receiving waters send up millions of reflections as a reminder of why we do this job.”

Every treatment plant has a story, Tremblay says. Sometimes, he learns how a town’s history shaped the sewer department. Sometimes, he finds out about upgrades or operational challenges.

Here, he identifies his favorite treatment plants and takes us on a little aerial journey across Massachusetts.

“Nothing against Deer Island Wastewater Treatment Plant or Upper Blackstone Water Pollution Abatement District,” he says, “but my favorite facilities are small- to medium-sized. There is something almost electric about the close-knit feeling of camaraderie within a small staff. It is the people, after all, that make up the unique character of a treatment facility.”

Without further ado, Marcel Tremblay’s Top 5 Treatment Plants (as seen from his flying office):

1. Leominster, Mass.
9.3 mgd plant
Activated sludge with ACTIFLO tertiary treatment

Leominster hits No. 1 on this list not only because it’s where Tremblay began his career in wastewater treatment, but also because he says it’s a wonderful success story and an outstanding facility. Leominster illustrates how contract operations can and should work, and Tremblay holds the facility’s environment of safety, training, service and advancement in high regard. The plant has received timely upgrades while meticulously maintaining original equipment.

“I could not have wished for a more sound foundation in my career, and I’d like to thank Plant Manager Robert Chalifoux, for his assistance,” says Tremblay.

The Leominster facility has received many awards including:

  • 1988 and 2000 Environmental Protection Agency Operation and Maintenance Excellence Award for its strict quality assurance/quality control program.
  • 2010 National Council for Public-Private Partnerships Award
  • 1998 and 2011 George W. Burke Jr. Award from the Water Environment Federation for its comprehensive safety program.

2. Billerica, Mass.
5.5 mgd plant
Activated sludge with CoMag tertiary treatment

The Billerica facility is a wonderful success story that reflects the hard work of dedicated employees. Tremblay was impressed by the community outreach and training programs that lab tech Jeff Kalmes organizes as a part of his commitment to the industry. Kalmes received the New England Water Environment Association’s 2008 Public Educator Award.

Billerica is an interesting combination of old and new technology, with the showpiece being the CoMag process. Billerica was the first full-size plant to use this magnetic separation process, so all bugs had to be worked out on site. As a result, the Billerica staff possesses a lot of practical knowledge of the process. Plant superintendent Lorraine Sander received the EPA’s 2013 Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant Operator Excellence Award.

3. Montague, Mass.
1.8 mgd
Extended aeration/sequential batch reactor

Montague highlights how a group of operators with a can-do attitude can solve problems and transform a plant. In a daring move, the operators adopted an extended aeration process and then modified the facility to make it work. Virtually all modifications were done in-house. The staff eliminated the need for wasting and chemical addition and generated revenue by accepting waste biosolids and septage from outside. Superintendent Robert Trombley and his crew have achieved incredible results, and are proud of their 2010 EPA award for excellence in operations and maintenance.

4. Adams, Mass.
3.5 mgd, summer; 4.6 mgd, winter
Conventional activated sludge

Adams benefits from its seven full-time employees’ combined lifetime experience of 193 years. With such a wealth of expertise comes a rare level of confidence, reliability and trust. Chief operator Joe Fijal and his crew benefit from a plant that is oversized, which means easier maintenance scheduling. Also, the soil in town is very alkaline, which eliminates chemical buffering. The Adams treatment facility is the proud recipient of the EPA 2012 Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant Excellence Award, and Fijal received the New England Water Environment Association’s 2013 Massachusetts Operator of the Year Award.

5. Great Barrington, Mass.
3.65 mgd plant
Conventional activated sludge with clariflocculator

The Great Barrington facility stands out as a well-designed, well-maintained good neighbor. Located adjacent to local tourist attraction Searles Castle, odors might well be a concern, but superintendent Tim Drumm says complaints are virtually nonexistent. The facility is clean and well maintained, and the laboratory stands out as a shining example of organization and efficiency. Great Barrington also benefits from a team of skilled professionals who take pride in their facility, and it shows everywhere you look. Drumm is proud that each team member can perform any task in the plant, which brings peace of mind. Like the facility in Adams, Great Barrington also typically sees flows less than half of design flow, which affords flexibility with maintenance. 

“The overwhelming similarity that I have seen in all my plant tours is the value of dedicated professionals,” says Tremblay. “Spacious tanks, reliable pumps and precise instrumentation certainly have their place, but it’s the people — not the machines — that are the true shining stars of the industry.”


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