Best of 2021: Operators Offer Top Strategies and Advice

Best of 2021: Operators Offer Top Strategies and Advice

Murfreesboro (Tennessee) Water Resources Department

One of the best things about the wastewater treatment industry is operators' and lab technicians' willingness to share stories, advice, know-how and new technologies with others around the nation. Whether you're networking at trade shows, participating in educational events, meeting up online, or reading and contributing to trade magazines like Treatment Plant Operator, you're all helping set a high standard for the industry.

In that same spirit of sharing, we've compiled some of the best stories and advice we heard from our featured operators and lab technicians in 2021.

With the maintenance team we’ve installed a mindset that I borrowed from the airlines. In the airline maintenance industry they have what they call a cannot-fail mindset, which means there is no circumstance in which the airplane can fall out of the sky due to a maintenance issue. We’ve adopted that same mindset. We’ve agreed we will never be out of compliance because of a maintenance issue. The team has stayed on top of it and has done very well with meeting that goal.
—John Strickland, plant manager, Murfreesboro (Tennessee) Water Resources Department

You can’t just use any old analysis on any sample and expect good results. What we do really well is work with the person requesting an analysis. We dig into their data quality objectives. We ask: What are you going to use this data for? What are your goals? That helps her group know what to sample, when, and where, and what type of analyses to perform.
—Elisabeth Werth, laboratory support supervisor, Metro Wastewater Reclamation District in Denver, Colorado

Our overarching goal [at the Her2O nonprofit group for women in water] is to put ourselves out of business. We want to get to a place where gender is not an issue in the water management industry, where all we see are skills and how those skills work together. Men and women might sometimes bring different skills to the table, but all of those skills are necessary for a well-rounded team.
—Brianna Huber, interim director of water filtration, East Moline, Illinois

[The water works training program] is hands-on training. Students shadow operators. They experience lab work, process control and testing — how the industry works. Then they can decide what departments they are interested in and whether they want to stay with us or not. We already have four students hired for internships, and we’ve started our second group of classes.
—Rey Davila, former chief of solids operations, South Mesquite Creek Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant, Mesquite, Texas

Clayton County (Georgia) Water Authority
Clayton County (Georgia) Water Authority

The QA/QC manual is really the backbone of any lab. If you don’t have good QA/QC, you can’t really say that your data is legally defensible. That’s especially true when we’re reporting to Environmental Protection Division and analyzing samples to make sure our industries are in compliance with their permits. It’s really important in calculating surcharges, as well.
—Jennifer Brandon, environmental compliance manager, Clayton County (Georgia) Water Authority

I put everybody working with me at my level, and I talk to them at my level. I don’t try to separate myself as someone different or higher. That allows me to have the trust of the operators to call and tell me when something is not correct. It’s OK to make mistakes as long as we can correct them swiftly so no one gets sick.
—William Leonard lead production operator for the Elsinore Valley Municipal Water District in Lake Elsinore, California

There are three of us down here, and it’s not like we’re a great big wastewater treatment plant. Whatever needs to be done, all of us can do. I am the primary lab analyst, but that doesn’t mean Jacob or Adam can’t do the same thing. We’re cross-trained from top to bottom, and it’s a great benefit to have.
—Tyler Bragg, WWTP lab supervisor, Glasgow, Kentucky

When I’m going to do training, we provide it to outside townships, free of charge. If we do charge, it’s minimal, just to cover coffee and doughnuts. We get a good turnout. I try to make my presentations interesting, and I try to make it a little bit fun. Every once in a while, I’ll put a surprise slide in, so that people will laugh.
—John Perry, director of water and sewer utilities in Jefferson Township, New Jersey

​Hawk Ridge Compost Facility in Unity, Maine
​Hawk Ridge Compost Facility in Unity, Maine

You can come into this field at the lowest level and rise to the top. No matter your position or title, hold yourself to a higher standard. Do more than your job description.
—Damon Forney, lead operator, Western Wake Regional Water Reclamation Facility in Apex, North Carolina

Some of our customers operate small municipal treatment plants and cannot afford the investment of money and staff time to achieve necessary biosolids certification on their own. It made sense for us, as their biosolids management partner, to attain certification and offer them the security and confidence they deserve.
—George Belmont, facility manager, Hawk Ridge Compost Facility in Unity, Maine

One of the things I actually enjoy the most, and one of the things I get the most kudos for from my accreditors, is control charts. It’s my way of tracking data — the quality control data, blanks, duplicates, standards, spikes. I get the most pleasure when I see that the laboratory is in control with the data that we generate on a daily basis.
—Andrew Wendell, senior chemist, ClearWater Laboratory in Newport, Maine

Our direct filtration system is effective but antiquated, and reverse osmosis and membranes are becoming the standard for filtering influent. We’re changing big-time, and water has to be cleaner and cleaner. So I’m changing with it.
—Von Eggers, plant operator, Richland (Washington) Department of Public Works


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