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Articles in support of small community water and wastewater operators.

Featured Video: Water Quality in Storage Facilities

In the previous two weeks' featured videos, our partners at RCAP have discussed how to conduct periodic water tank inspections, as well as what kinds of inspections tanks can or should receive. Though those videos made clear that preventing contamination is the primary focus of these inspections, they didn't go into detail regarding the kinds of water quality degradation that can happen in drinking water storage facilities. This one does. Though inspections are discussed, the focus is on the biological, chemical, and physical factors in storage tanks that can affect drinking water quality. Water operators play an essential role in protecting the public health of their communities by ensuring that drinking water is clean and safe to drink. Understanding the possible contamination or degradation factors in your storage facility can help you ensure that your treated water is still clean and drinkable when it reaches your customers' taps.

For more on water storage tank issues, search our document database using the phrase "water storage tank" (without the quote marks) in the keyword search filter.

Featured Video: Types of Storage Tank Inspections

Last week's video from our RCAP partners discussed the steps of a thorough periodic water tank inspection. This week, the topic returns, with a discussion of the types of tank inspection, including routine, periodic, and comprehensive inspections. The 4-minute video outlines the frequency and basic considerations of each kind of inspection, with photos and video of inspections carried out at various locations with various types of water tanks. Treated water storage facilities can be a weak link in the water quality chain. Don't let them slip into disrepair and ruin your hard work by causing contamination.

For more on water storage tank issues, search our document database using the phrase "water storage tank" (without the quote marks) in the keyword search filter. Or check back next week, when we feature another RCAP video on this topic!

Featured Video: Conducting a Periodic Inspection

Periodic water storage tank inspections are a great way to ensure the quality and quick availability of the water you're providing to your customers. After all, it would be a shame to go to all the trouble and expense of treating your water, only to have it get contaminated or go stagnant in storage. Not to mention the heartbreaking waste if your tank springs a leak! Periodic inspections help you keep on top of any issues that might arise with your water storage before they get serious. Tank inspection forms may feel like long lists of nitpicky details, but the principles behind tank inspections are simple. This five-minute video from our partners at RCAP explains the basic considerations that go into a periodic tank inspection, and shows professionals conducting inspections on several different types of storage tank. It can serve as a great starting point for planning your own inspection.

For more on water storage tank issues, search our document database using the phrase "water storage tank" (without the quote marks) in the keyword search filter. Or check back next week, when we feature another RCAP video on this topic!

Featured Video: The EFC Water and Wastewater Rate Dashboards

The new year may be a time for considering budgets as well as operational challenges. But for small water utilities in particular, setting rates and managing budgets involves a complex set of social and financial issues that can feel overwhelming. Luckily, there are resources out there that can help. The Environmental Finance Center at the University of North Carolina has developed a set of free, interactive Utility Financial Sustainability and Rates Dashboards. According to the project website, these dashboards are "designed to assist utility managers and local officials to compare and analyze water and wastewater rates against multiple characteristics, including utility finances, system characteristics, customer base socioeconomic conditions, geography, and history." To learn more about how the dashboard works, you can watch their nine-part video series, beginning with the video below:

Dashboards are currently available for twelve states. (For the most up-to-date versions of these dashboards, and to check if new states have been added, use the map at the project page.)

Even if your state is not on the list of current dashboards, it may still be interesting to check out what communities similar to yours are doing around the country. If you'd like more help working on rates and budgeting at your utility, the Rural Community Assistance Program provides technical assistance to small, rural utilities in need of both operational and administrative support. They also have a number of helpful guides aimed at supporting board members of small utilities, including this one dedicated specifically to rate-setting.

Utility finances can be difficult and complicated, but they don't have to be impossible. Find out which assistance providers near you can help you determine what's most realistic and sustainable for your utility.

Featured Video: Lime Softening Techniques for Water Operators

Hello, and Happy Friday! After the longer water treatment video last week, here is a little water treatment bite. In this 2-minute AWWA video, Fred Bloetscher briefly describes the process for adding lime to the reactor at a large drinking water treatment plant. He also demonstrates how quickly the lime reaction works to clarify the water.

For more on lime softening topics, visit our document database and type "lime softening" (without the quote marks) into the keyword filter, then click Retrieve Documents.

Featured Video: Direct and Conventional Filtration

A new year is often a time of reflection, re-focusing, and a return to the basics. Even if you're not someone who believes in New Years' resolutions, the turn of the calendar year can still be a great time to consider the big picture and the details in it that are important to you. If you have a little time now that the holidays are over, this can also be a great time to brush up on your drinking water treatment knowledge. This 23-minute video is a walkthrough of a direct filtration plant, but it's a lot more than that. Ty Whitman of The Water Sifu explains each treatment step in detail while providing video of the flash mix process, flocculation basins, gravity filters, backwashing, and the spent washwater reclamation process. He also discusses the differences between the direct filtration processes he's demonstrating and conventional filtration.

For more in-depth instruction on drinking water topics, visit our training event calendar and search by your state to see training offered near you.

Featured Video: Safe Drinking Water Act Anniversary

As December draws to a close, let's take a moment to commemorate the passing of the Safe Drinking Water Act 42 years ago, in December of 1974. For the fortieth anniversary, the Minnesota Department of Health released this video. The reminiscences on this landmark legislation include interview excerpts with former Vice President Walter Mondale (a Minnesota native) who was part of the Senate that passed the bill.

As we get ready to begin a new year, it's worth remembering how much public water utilities have accomplished in their vital work protecting public health. Though they may sometimes feel invisible, your efforts help protect the health and well-being of the people in your communities. Whatever else this past year might have brought you, that is certainly a reason to celebrate this New Year's Eve.

Featured Video: Use of Davidson Pie

What's a holiday season without a little pie? The Davidson Pie might not be very tasty, but it can help you work math problems assisting with chemical addition and process control at both water and wastewater utilities. This 3-minute video explains the construction of the pie and works an example problem using it.

For more water and wastewater math help, search our document database using the "Certification/Exam Prep" category filter and the word "math" (without the quote marks) in the keyword filter.

Featured Video: Will It Flush?

With the holidays coming up, a lot of your customers may be getting particularly creative with their flushing activities. After all, for a lot of us the holidays mean a lot of hectic activity and a house full of guests. When the house is full, the trash is full, and the bathroom's getting worked overtime, sometimes standards can relax a bit. And who can blame them? A lot of products do say "flushable," right there on the label.

If you think your customers could use some extra information on how several commonly-flushed products actually behave once they're out of sight, this video might help. In it, Pre-Treatment Technician Tracy Stevens from the City of Spokane Department of Wastewater Management uses a jar test setup to demonstrate the dangers to sewers and wastewater pumps posed by facial tissues, flushable wipes, dental floss, Q-Tips, feminine hygiene products, and flushable kitty litter. If you need to give someone a refresher on the flushable, this video could be a great place to start.

For more on utilities' efforts to fight flushables and fatbergs, search "flushable" (without the quote marks) in the keyword filter box of our document database. The City of Portland also has a list of items not to flush or put down your sink:

  • disposable diapers
  • tampons and tampon applicators
  • sanitary napkins
  • cotton balls and swabs
  • mini or maxi pads
  • condoms
  • cleaning wipes of any kind
  • facial tissue
  • bandages and bandage wrappings
  • automotive fluids
  • paint, solvents, sealants and thinners
  • poisons and hazardous waste
  • cooking grease 

Creating O&M Manuals that Actually Get Used

This is a 2013 guest post from Angela Hengel, a Rural Development Specialist with RCAC. 

Background
Small community water systems face a variety of problems and challenges quite unlike anything their larger counterparts must face. With fewer customers to share the costs of running the system, smaller water systems suffer from economy of scale. These utilities often struggle to maintain water quality, water quantity, and system infrastructure. 

Decreased revenue also means that small water systems are often faced with the inability to provide equitable pay to their operators resulting in frequent turnover and a subsequent loss of system knowledge and experience. Adding to that problem, small systems often cannot afford the time and resources required to create adequate standard operating procedures for their system. This issue can have a devastating effect on a utility as new operators have few useful guidance documents to assist them with learning operations, maintenance and repairs. As regulations become more stringent and the associated technologies more complex, the need for well developed, user friendly operating procedures becomes even more apparent. 

The Search for a Solution
RCAC technical assistance providers work with small community systems on a daily basis and are familiar with the challenges they face. Through these relationships, it became clear that the lack of informative and easy to use operations and maintenance (O&M) manuals was a recurring roadblock for small systems striving to become sustainable. RCAC was faced with a question, how to develop an O&M manual that captures system information in a method that is easy to use and understand?

To start, RCAC looked at basic O&M manuals for small treatment plants and drew some conclusions: while they contained system information, they were often bulky, difficult to navigate, and very generic. This was particularly true when it came to manufacturers’ O&M manuals. 

Another aspect that RCAC noted was the tendency for manufacturers’ O&M manuals to be written with either too much engineering language or without any engineering thought at all. As noted by RCAC Rural Development Specialist and professional engineer Leon Schegg, “What we came across were catalog cuts from particular equipment manufacturers but very little information specific to that system,” said Schegg. “Some of the materials handed over were actually sales brochures.” As a result, these manuals were more often than not left by operators to collect dust on a bookshelf.

RCAC realized that a new approach was necessary. There had to be a way to enhance O&M manuals in a manner that is both technically sound and user friendly. For RCAC Regional Environmental Manager Dave Harvey the answer was easy. “I am a do-it-yourself kind of person,” said Harvey. “I love to tinker on my bike and my vehicles at home and my go-to place is always YouTube. I would much rather watch a video of how to repair my bike than read a manual. It’s fast, easy and accurate.” And with that, the RCAC video O&M manual was born. 

Making the Manuals
The idea of a video O&M manual was immediately welcomed by small water system managers and operators. With funding from Indian Health Service (IHS), RCAC began development of video O&M manuals for three tribally-owned small treatment plants. 

Video O&M Introduction from RCAC on Vimeo.

"Our intent was not to do away with the written manuals but rather to enhance them by integrating them with video demonstrations filmed on site at the treatment plant,” Harvey said. The result: highly individualized O&M manuals that provide not only written information, but detailed yet easy to follow video instructions on plant operations and maintenance. 

RCAC took a holistic approach to creating the manuals. Each individualized O&M manual is created through a collaborative of RCAC technicians, utility operators, IHS engineers, contractors and manufacturer technical representatives. Filmed onsite by RCAC videographers and finished in the RCAC graphic arts department, each manual is a one-of-a-kind visual training tool. With it, small system staff with limited technical skills can learn their system’s requirements and follow step-by-step maintenance procedures using a menu-driven CD containing text, photography, video and the internet. 

There were challenges to be met along the way in the creation of the manuals. “It was kind of like a movie set. We had to get all parties on site and organized and ready to go when it was time to film,” said RCAC’s Eagle Jones. “We had to deal with road noise, lighting, people forgetting their lines and just getting used to the idea of being on camera,” Jones said. “It took a few shoots and we had to go back and re-shoot a few sections, but in the end we produced some really great video.”

Bringing the video and written manual together in a cohesive and organized manner presented its own set of difficulties. “It was important that the manuals were designed in a way that would build the operators’ trust so that they actually use them,” said Schegg. “We inserted flags in the text of the manuals directing the user to a video.” 

One of the issues RCAC had to overcome was that the manuals being provided by equipment manufacturers often contained information that was different than plant operations. According to Schegg, “The videos were documenting actual maintenance procedures that were not in the manufacturers’ manuals.” This was particularly true with plant start-ups. “Problems arise during plant start-up that may not be known during the design phase or when the manufacturer put together their operations and maintenance manual,” said Schegg. “We see and resolve inconsistencies between the plans, manufacturers’ literature and recommended settings so that our manuals present the actual process and equipment operating and maintenance procedures necessary at your site.”

The Outcome
Once the video O&M manuals were completed, RCAC returned to the systems to review the manual with the operators. “We don’t just say, ‘Here’s your manual’” says Harvey. “We sit down and review every section with system operators to ensure that the information in the manual and video is completely accurate and, more importantly, that the operators understand how to use it.”

The Campo EPA department recently received a completed video O&M manual. Melissa Estes, Campo EPA Director, commented on the decision to have RCAC create the manual, “IHS recommended RCAC. The bid we received from RCAC was very reasonable compared to other consultants.  RCAC met with the Tribe’s Executive Committee and the Committee decided RCAC were experienced working with tribal governments and would do a good job, so the Committee approved the contract.   Since the Tribe and the tribal EPA had worked closely with RCAC on other projects we felt they would do an outstanding job.” 

In reference to the actual manual, Estes referred to it as being, “very user friendly,” and went on to note, “This manual will accommodate people who learn from reading, and others who learn from seeing.  The format is helpful for people who like to read directions or see them on a video. It is very helpful to have a manual specific to the system you operate, with actual demonstrations of how to operate the components.” 

RCAC knew that a video O&M manual would provide several benefits to small systems such as; increased operator technical capacity, a more effective preventive maintenance program, a more effective emergency maintenance program, a more accurate ability to budget for parts and labor, and having an enhanced training tool for new operators that acts as a safety net should the system find themselves one day without an operator. 

Still there were other, unexpected benefits that came about during the creation of these manuals. By bringing together engineers, operators, contractors, and technical representatives and analyzing the processes, each party began to get a better understanding of their role as it interrelates to other roles. As Schegg states, “The manual brings together documented and undocumented procedures from the standpoint of an operator which proved to be a tool not only for the operator but also engineers and contractors who use the information to modify those processes in the future and hopefully have an advantage when starting a new design.”

The Future
With the success of the three video O&M manuals, RCAC has plans for not only creating more treatment plant manuals, but to expand to other utility operations. “We are currently in the process of finishing a wastewater treatment plant manual and putting together proposals for creating distribution system manuals using the same video format,” Harvey said.

As for whether or not other systems would be interested in video O&M manuals, “Almost 100% of the managers and operators I have talked with would prefer to have an O&M manual with video integrated into the text,” states Harvey. And when asked if she would recommend this style of O&M manual to other systems, Estes replied, “Yes, we would recommend this style to other water systems.” 

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