5 Tips for a New Wastewater Operator From a Seasoned Veteran

You've got years of experience in wastewater. Let's face it: You've been doing this job for a long time. So what would you say to a newbie?
5 Tips for a New Wastewater Operator From a Seasoned Veteran

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When you’re new to wastewater, nothing is more important than listening to a plant’s seasoned operators. Here, Marcel Tremblay shares what he would tell a newcomer, pointing out some sound advice for the next generation of wastewater plant employees. How about you? What advice would you offer a newbie at your plant? Share a comment here, or email us at editor@tpomag.com.

Hey, nice to meet you and welcome aboard. I heard you have a wastewater license. Oh, the Grade 2 … well, that’s a start. For now you’re partnered up with me to show you the ropes. I’ve been here the longest, and I ran this plant through three upgrades. Some of the guys might tell you I’m particular about a lot of things, but with this kind of operation, you can’t have loose ends. Don’t worry though — everyone pretty much gets along just fine.

We have a good crew, and I’m sure you’ll fit in, but first let me give you some advice:

1. Shut your mouth.
This is actually two-pronged advice. First of all, you want to keep your mouth shut when you do any work in wastewater treatment. All too often things splash, spray, leak or whatnot, and you don’t want anything here to end up in your mouth.

This also encourages your ears and brain to take over. Listen carefully, because we have a lot of good reasons why we do things a certain way around here. Sure, we encourage you to ask questions, but please hold off until I explain each step because I’ll probably cover your question. Our methods are rather tried and true. Even still, you might have ideas about how you would do something differently. That’s fine, but we need everyone to do everything the same way around here all the time. Give it a few months. If you still think you have a better idea, bring it up at break time, and we’ll discuss it.

2. Use your personal protective equipment, or PPE, every time, all the time.
That means using a hard hat and glasses always, ear protection in any area where you have to raise your voice to have a conversation, and gloves — both waterproof and protective. We also have a full range of breathing protection available — from basic dust masks to specialized filter cartridge units to self-contained breathing apparatus, or SCBA. Know when to use each one. 

I see you already have your steel-toed boots, but we also have rubber boots and waders. We stock sunscreen and insect repellant, first aid kits in every building, and we will soon have automatic external defibrillators. Our main mission is to protect the environment and the health of the ratepayers, but that goes hand-in-hand with every employee going home with all parts in order. We take safety and health very seriously here.

3. Remember the importance of maintenance.
This is the north influent pump station. See each one of those huge gray pumps? Like every other pump in the place, they represent a whole lot of water — in various stages of nastiness — in a big hurry to go somewhere. If one pump stopped for any reason, it would affect other things as water backs up. The other pumps would speed up to make up for it. If you lost two pumps, the remaining pumps would barely be able to keep up at a normal peak flow. We don’t want these things to happen, so we take care of our equipment. We have a preventive maintenance program, and we follow it. We do some of it in operations, but the maintenance department does most of it. There’s some paperwork that goes with it, but it’s mostly just checklists.

4. Use your senses.
If you think a pump might have a problem, try this: Feel the volute. Other than the heat circulator pumps or some of the ones in the digester building, all pumps should feel cool if they are pumping. If a RAS pump is warm to the touch, I guarantee you it is clogged up. Another thing to remember is that with centrifugal pumps, problems are much more likely to occur on the suction side. Also, always make sure the seal water is on before putting a pump on line.

Listen to pumps and drives for any unusual noises. Get used to how the aeration basins smell when the effluent is the clearest and then again when there are problems. Look at the color of the foam on the basins.

Working here you will rely on all your senses except taste.

5. Pay close attention to proper valving.
You must be absolutely sure of what you are pumping and where you are pumping it. You might be filling a tank with sludge and wondering why it’s taking so long. You don’t want to find out it’s because you are also filling a pipe gallery with sludge two levels down.

When I say “absolutely sure,” I mean it. You can look at a valve and say it is closed, but if you removed the handle you could see it was open. Do not judge a valve by the handle. Look at the indicator on the collar to be sure it is where it needs to be.


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