New England's Operator Exchange Program is a Great Resource

Guest blogger Jeff Kalmes tours various New England treatment plants as part of the 2017 Operator Exchange Program.
New England's Operator Exchange Program is a Great Resource
As part of the Operator Exchange Program, Jeff Kalmes toured the Waterbury (Vermont) Water Treatment Plant. Its lagoon has a total capacity of 12 million gallons.

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I recently found another way to take my wastewater education beyond the classroom, which is a topic I’ve addressed before with this blog. I took the opportunity to participate in the Operator Exchange Program, which was hosted this year by Massachusetts and Vermont. Each year, all six New England states participate in the program, and an operator is selected from each state to attend the exchange event.

I had previously seen our operators association seeking volunteers for the program, and I never gave it much thought, as I didn’t understand what it was about. This year, I decided to be adventurous and give it a whirl.

My schedule was designed by the Green Mountain Water Environment Association (GMWEA). The plan was for me to meet GMWEA President Rick Kenney at the Vermont border, where he’d escort me to a few facilities. The first stop of my tour was at Quechee (Vermont) Treatment Plant. I have family in the region and I’m familiar with the territory, so I was eager to get a chance to see its infrastructure.

The Quechee plant is a small sequencing batch reactor (SBR) facility with a 0.5 mgd capacity, and it’s doing a great job. After chatting with Tom, the lead operator, he gave me the low-down on solids and process control. Most of the plants I visited, including Quechee, used UV disinfection, which is different than the sodium hypochlorite disinfection I’m used to.

My next stop was the White River Treatment Plant — another SBR process, but with a larger 2 mgd capacity. Plant Manager Randy took me around this facility, beginning with his SCADA screens, which gave me a good overview of what I was about to see.

As we followed the flow through the plant, we talked about different issues he deals with here versus what I see 100 miles south of him. We’re all familiar with this conversation — stories of clogged pumps from wipes, sludge disposal issues and all the other crazy things that happen to operators.

White River ran a centrifuge to dewater its sludge, while Quechee hauled liquid sludge. The cake coming out of the centrifuge was probably around 25% solid and it was beautiful. It has no odor and was being mixed with lime for land application — very impressive!

After a couple of hours of touring these two plants, we went to lunch and talked about some of the big challenges we all face in our industry, from finding and keeping young talent to licensing issues. After lunch, I drove an hour north to Montpelier, which is the smallest state capital in the nation with a population of fewer than 8,000 people. It’s really a great view of what a real New England town is all about: friendly people, great food and interesting places to go.

It was in Montpelier that I met up with Chris Cox, the chief operator of the Montpelier Wastewater Treatment Plant and GMWEA board member. His plant was the largest one I’d see in Vermont with a 4 mgd capacity and he was doing around 2 mgd. As is the case in most treatment plants, Chris is not only in charge, but he’s also working in the plant. I can relate to that.

Here's a shot of an Archimedes screw at Montpelier Wastewater Treatment Plant.

As we were doing the tour, a small problem came up with a local septage hauler not being able to unload. Chris was trying to show me around, but he knew he had to get this guy unloaded and on his way. I could see he was distracted, so I told him we should go see what’s going on. The driver was unable to unload and the operators had checked their end of the process, which was fine. Chris stepped in and helped solve the truck’s problem, and we went on with the tour.

His plant is an activated sludge system with rectangular primary tanks, a walking bridge and peripheral-feed secondary clarifiers. Before the upgrade at my own plant, we had the same style of clarifiers and they’re unusual. They load from the outside edge of a circular tank and then discharge through square hanging weirs in the center of the tank. From there, the flow moves on to UV disinfection.

The Montpelier plant also takes in leachate, septage and traditional wastewater flow. They operate digesters and belt filter presses and produce methane to offset costs. The one thing I found amusing was that he uses powdered polymer and batch mixes the polymer to run his press. I know it doesn’t sound funny, but we always joked at home that if we were going to rob a bank we would rob it on a rainy day and spread dry polymer behind us for the getaway. Anyone who has ever used this stuff knows what I’m talking about!

After a busy day, I checked into the Capital Plaza Hotel, showered and relaxed before meeting some of the GMWEA board members for dinner and drinks. Again, I had a great conversation with fellow operators in a very relaxed environment.

The next day was also scheduled to be a busy day with five planned tours. I had to make one additional stop in Waterbury, Vermont, because the chief operator there, Pete Krolczyk, has been down to see my CoMag operation several times and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see his plant. Waterbury is a lagoon system with CoMag at the end to polish it up before discharge out into the receiving waters which go to Lake Champlain.

After my tour and visit with Pete I headed an hour north to Burlington, Vermont, where I met up with Nate Lavallee. Nate is the chief operator at the Milton facility. Along with Nate was Will Sanderson, who was the Vermont exchange operator who went to Massachusetts in September. It was good to meet Will and talk about his experience seeing some really big plants in Massachusetts. In Milton, they run an SBR plant and use UV disinfection.

Nate and Will were my guides through this area in Vermont, and next we headed to Essex Junction to meet Jim Jutras and his crew. His plant is an activated sludge facility with effluent cloth filters and sodium hypochlorite for disinfection. Like all the other plants I had seen earlier, the overall housekeeping was excellent. Jim and his crew had a good handle on ways to decrease utilities’ costs. They were capturing the methane and using solar to offset electrical costs. I’m sure in this part of the state the costs could get out of control quick if we have a tough Vermont winter.

My next stop was at the Shelburne Treatment Plant, where Chris Robinson is the chief operator as well as past president of GMWEA. His plant was an SBR plant, but he had a little twist. His reactors were all covered, probably for odor control. His plant was neat and clean and running really well. It too used cloth filters on the effluent. Phosphorus removal is a big deal in the Northeast, and these filters were being used in many of the plants.

Many of the treatment plants I visited made use of these cloth filters for effluent.

With two plants left on the tour and not enough time to tour them, we had to skip Bartlett Bay, which is another activated sludge plant. The grand finale was the South Burlington Airport Parkway Plant — the location of the Poo and Brew Tour. Bob Fischer, also a GMVEA board member, led the tour of his activated sludge plant.

The facility had its own University of Cape Town twist, though, as the BNR system mixed primary effluent with recycled denitrified mixed liquor in tanks with no oxygen, causing a luxury uptake of phosphorus. Bob was a very entertaining tour guide and he kept the tour casual partly due to the guests which were a mixed crew made up of young professionals, operators and state regulators. After the tour, we attended a social event at Queen City Brewery, finding the time to unwind and meet everyone.

My third and final day was to attend the GMVEA Trade Show in Burlington at the Sheraton. I was familiar with many of the vendors in attendance, as I use the same ones at home. This trade show is a little different than the one I attend in Massachusetts. Here they set up six speakers — three before lunch and the next three after lunch — so you have your choice of the three different rooms. I’m sure that operators were awarded TCHs for attending these sessions.

I must say I was impressed with the professionalism from the operators I met during those three days. It’s really nice that we could all immediately relate to each other because of our jobs. I instantly felt at home with all of my fellow operators, even though we had just met. That is one of the things I love about this career. You feel instantly connected to people who love what they do, and it shows in the way they care for their plants and the environment. As a plant supervisor, now I will definitely have my newer operators take part in this program. There is so much to learn from seeing other plants and talking with other operators.

About the author
Jeff Kalmes is a Grade 7 operator and plant supervisor at the Town of Billerica Wastewater Treatment Plant. He has won the 2008 NEWEA Public Educator Award, the 2011 WEF National Public Educator Award and the 2015 NEWEA Operator of the Year Award. You can reach him at


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