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WaterOperator.org Blog

Articles in support of small community water and wastewater operators.

Featured Videos: Clarifier Basics & State Point Analysis

Featured Videos: Clarifier Basics & State Point Analysis
You know what a wastewater clarifier does in a general sense---solids go in the bottom, cleaner water comes out the top---but how do you handle the nitty gritty of day-to-day clarifier operation? How do you understand what's happening? How do you troubleshoot?

This week's video offers some answers. It begins with a very brief refresher on the basics and then goes on to dive in to state point analysis and troubleshooting scenarios. It's just under 15 minutes and includes clear diagrams and visuals to help guide you through the concepts.  And if you click through to YouTube, there's a link to the spreadsheet used in the second half.




For more on clarifier operations and troubleshooting, visit our document database, type "clarifiers" (without the quote marks) into the keyword search field, and search document type Slides/Presentations.

Hurricanes, Flooding and Wastewater Plants: What Have We Learned?

Hurricanes, Flooding and Wastewater Plants: What Have We Learned?

In recent months, there have been dozens of reports of wastewater treatment plants that have flooded due to heavy hurricane rains and storm surges in Florida, Texas, Puerto Rico and beyond. Both the sheer number of plants affected, and the extent and duration of the flooding have posed significant public health and technical challenges, often stretching communities to their limits

To add to these problems, many rural utilities were already struggling to keep their systems operating before the storms struck, so costly, complicated repairs or replacements of damaged infrastructure is simply not an option. For example, Patton Village, Texas had just completed a new wastewater plant  the first of its kind in their community — before Hurricane Harvey struck. Now they can only hope that USDA/FEMA emergency funding will be available to help repair the damage. And even once the systems are up and running again, it is not a given that water systems can count on water rate income to help with their O&M bills - many residents have fled their flood-damaged homes for good.  

The sad truth is that lately, floods have been affecting wastewater plants with unfortunate regularity, and not just in hurricane-prone areas. For example, in Central Illinois, the small town of Hutsonville's wastewater treatment plant has flooded 3 times in the last 2 years, up from once every 5 years, according to its contract operator Shannon Woodward of Connor & Connor, Inc.

Woodward's first piece of advice is not to build on a floodplain, but he also acknowledges that many communities do not have the capital funds for effective protective measures or relocation, and so operators must deal with the hand they are given. His second piece of advice: "Make sure all electrical controls, switch gears and transformers are above the flood stage. That way, when the flood waters subside, you don't have equipment loss and can get back into operation — even if it takes 3 to 6 weeks for the waters to recede." 

Mason City, another small town in Illinois, was able to fund improvements after a flood in 2008 cut off the town’s water supply and nearly overflowed the capacity of its wastewater system. The following year, the city built a stone wall around the water plant, installed flood sensors on the local river, and built effluent pumping stations for the wastewater plant. 

And this article tells the damage and recovery stories of two flooded wastewater plants in Rhode Island. According to the operators of these plants, it is essential to have a flood plan, even if you think your facility is protected. In addition, they maintain it is important to involve wastewater treatment personnel in emergency response exercises or in the incident command structure. On a practical level, the operators encourage SCADA systems to be elevated on the second floor in the operations building if possible. And lastly, they recommend you back up your files and documents electronically. Papers get wet, they say: move them to a dry storage facility. 

Finally, while every community has different characteristics and needs, there are some universal preparedness strategies for wastewater plants. The US EPA recommends practicing mitigation options as the best way to prevent floodwater from invasively appearing. Some of these options include crafting barriers around key assets, having an emergency back-up generator, and keeping key electrical equipment elevated. You can learn more about these options here, or you can watch this helpful video. In addition, many states have their own guidances, such as this one from Minnesota’s Pollution Control Agency.

Featured Video: Wastewater Phosphorus Removal

As you keep an eye on surface water quality near your wastewater treatment plant this summer, nutrient control might be on your mind. If you're struggling with high phosphorus levels in your effluent, this week's video might shed some light on your options. In this webcast recording from WEF, a panel of experts discuss wastewater phosphorus in-depth, covering biological, chemical, and combined removal options. This is a longer video---nearly two hours---but if you need a deep dive on the topic, this resource is a great place to start. Click on the link below to access the video player.

WEF Phosphorus Removal Webcast

For more slides on phosphorus removal, go to our document database and select the Nutrient Control category and the Presentations/Slides document type. Then type "phosphorus removal" (without the quote marks) into the keyword search field and click Retrieve Documents.

Featured Video: Wastewater Microbiology

If you're a wastewater treatment operator, you know your "bugs" are what helps make the whole thing go. Most wastewater treatment plants rely on the action of various microscopic creatures to clean and break down the waste at their plant. And these bacteria, protozoa, and other life forms do more than just treat your wastewater. Correctly identifying and counting the "bugs" in your system can also give you an idea of what's going on in your plant, like what nutrients or other levels might be high. This can then give you ideas on what other tests or treatments need to be run to mitigate any problems before they get out of hand.

What if you want to be friends with your bugs, but you don't know how to start? This video could be a good first step. In this eight-and-a-half minute video, you're introduced to the basic kinds of microbes found in a wastewater treatment plant. This includes microscope video of several varieties of critter, and discussions of their significance as indicator organisms.

If you'd like to learn more about your tiny wastewater treatment buddies, go to our document database and type "wastewater microbiology" (without the quote marks) into the keyword search field. Then click "Retrieve Documents." To see what operator training may be available near you, visit our calendar and select your state using the drop-down menu options.

The Roundup: Online Wastewater Training Courses

The Roundup: Online Wastewater Training Courses

Photo Credit: Zenia Nunez

 

Managing wastewater is a big task. Whether you need to train new personnel or simply brush up on professional development, we’ve rounded up accessible wastewater training opportunities on the web, listed in alphabetical order. These courses require a fee in exchange for Continuing Education Credit (CEUs). To find free webinars on wastewater, without CEUs, check the WaterOperator.org events calendar.

 

On-demand courses


360water

The one hour courses include some wastewater treatment, analysis, and safety for $30 each. 360water courses are good for CEUs in most states.

Cost: $30

 

Approved Environment, Inc.

These online courses are good for CEUs in 18 states. Courses range from 1 hour topic courses (e.g. odor control or ozone disinfection) for $20.25 each, to a 16-hour Wastewater Certification Review for $275.

Cost: $20.25 - $275

 

CEU Plan

CEU Plan will filter thee course topics available to you depending on which are accepted for credit in your state. (There are no options for the U.S. Virgin Islands, Unincorporated Territories or the Caribbean.)  Prices vary by state, but the widely offered 1 hour activated sludge courses, ranges in price from $12 to $15, and some states offer course packages that bundle together 6 hours of wastewater or collections topics for an $80-$86 enrollment fee.

Cost: $12 - $86

 

Office of Water Programs, California State University Sacramento

A five-part course designed to train operators to safely and effectively operate and maintain wastewater treatment plants. All courses are online and include lessons, readings, student exercises, and online exams. Supplementary materials for purchase include companion CDs with readings and student and a manual Operation of Wastewater Treatment Plants, Volume I.

Cost: Enrollment $50 - $148

 

Technical Learning College

Accepted in many states, TLC’s courses are written manuals and assignments available for download, with fees from $50 to $300 for a wide variety of topics, from pretreatment to pumps.

Cost: $50-300

 

TREEO Center

TREEO offers online courses in wastewater collection and treatment (listed at the bottom of the linked page). These self-paced courses look more like traditional classes than most other options. However, they are pricey at $325 per course, which includes a textbook shipped to you.

Cost: $325

 

Scheduled Courses

Arkansas Environmental Training Academy
AETA offers wastewater courses scheduled online throughout the year for a relatively low price. Descriptions are available here.
Cost: $75 to $180

Washington Environmental Training Center
A course on wastewater laboratory procedures begins June 26 (today) and costs $343 for 2 credits. A wastewater collection course begins September 25 at $479 for 3 credits. has a few online options, mostly for water operators, but they do have a $479 for 3 credits.
Cost: $343 - $479

Did we miss any online wastewater courses you’d recommend? Please share a link in the comments section below.

Featured Video: Community Onsite Options

If you live in a community with a large number of failing septic tanks, you're probably already familiar with the downsides of these systems: the damage to local water quality, the threats to public health. The smell. What you may not know is what you can do about it. Of course, one option is to convert the entire community to a conventional wastewater collection and treatment system. This prevents putting the entire community at the mercy of that one guy who just won't pump or repair his tank, and it ensures that a professional is involved in the wastewater treatment process.

But what if a conventional sewer system is logistically or financially impractical for your community? Are you stuck dealing with smelly, dirty water leaks forever? Thankfully, the answer is no. This 17-minute video discusses the opportunities offered by community onsite management systems. These systems combine the effluent from individual septic tanks into a community-wide leachfield, and often involve mandating activities such as basic maintenance and monitoring. The video includes profiles of five communities (most of them rural) that successfully rehabilitated failing septic systems and combined them into a community onsite management system.

If you're interested in learning more about septic systems and decentralized wastewater systems (which involve community-level septic options), browse our document database using the category Decentralized WW Systems. You can also visit NESC's wastewater page for more on the septic resources they collect and offer.

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 

Educate Decision Makers With Help From RCAP

Google “drinking water” or “wastewater,” and you’re sure to find a growing list of news articles about lead safety concerns, the recent PFOA and PFOS advisory, nitrogen and phosphorus pollution, and our crumbling infrastructure. The weight and fervor of these public discussions may concern some who grapple to protect our drinking water and environment. But increased attention has its benefits. It could mean your board members and other community decision makers would be more receptive to learning about your operations and operational needs. And that’s an opportunity you don’t want to miss.

Last year, the Rural Community Assistance Partnership released two video series designed to help leaders in small, rural communities make more informed decisions about drinking water and wastewater operations, maintenance, and expansion. Each video spends roughly 2-4 minutes walking the audience through a different technical step in the drinking water or wastewater treatment process. Click on the links below to watch the videos.

Wastewater Treatment

  1. Introduction
  2. Collection system
  3. Preliminary treatment
  4. Primary treatment
  5. Secondary treatment
  6. Solids and sludge handling
  7. Effluent disinfection
  8. Effluent disposal

Drinking Water Systems

  1. Introduction
  2. Raw water intake
  3. Pre-settlement and pre-treatment
  4. Static mixers and flash chambers
  5. Sedimentation and filtration
  6. Distribution systems

Beyond these series, sharing the RCAP video The Importance of an Operator in a Community’s Water System with your governing body will provide insight into the day-to-day work of an operator and the importance of that role.  

Click here to browse these videos in a playlist.

To find more videos from RCAP and other technical assistance providers, visit our Documents Database and click Videos in the Type category. And subscribe to the WaterOperator.org newsletter to get featured videos and other resources sent straight to your inbox.  

Water Reuse in Illinois: Part 2

Last week, we introduced you to Rick Manner, the director of the Urbana-Champaign Sanitation District. In the part two of our interview, you'll hear about how changes in the State Revolving Loan Fund opened the door to reuse project and how the district determined the market value of their effluent. 

Illinois EPA is allowing Cronus to apply for SRF funding to build the pipeline. Can you tell us more about that?

State Revolving Loan Fund is part of how wastewater plants expanded in the 1970s. The U.S. EPA set up a big pot of money that the states could draw from for loans to city sanitation districts to help them expand their treatment facilities. Treatment facilities then pay back the loan over time, which sets up the revolving nature of the program. The payments going in this year can then go out to someone else.

Originally, SRF was set up exclusively for wastewater treatment plants, but then they set up an equivalent for drinking water plants. Then the Water Resources Reform and Development Act was passed in 2014. In that, Congress explicitly called out an expansion of SRF. They explicitly said that reuse projects, including the pipelines associated with them, can be eligible for loan options. In particular, they said that because reuse is a little bit unusual, the funding can go not only to municipal bodies but also to private sector entities.  

Before these amendments, it was ambiguous as to whether this project would have been eligible for SRF dollars. We would have had to argue that it was part of our treatment plant. But now Illinois EPA is willing to consider it because Congress has said that reuse can be eligible.

This is significant because the reason reuse projects often fail is the difficult economic hurdle of building the pipeline from point A to point B. The biggest reason Cronus might not want to do reuse is the $20 million hurdle of building the long pipeline. Even though it may cost more on a per gallon basis to make a drinking water pipe larger, that up front capital cost is so difficult to overcome that it often kills reuse projects. So SRF really helps make reuse a more appealing operation to consider because the interest rate is so good.

How did you decide what to charge for the effluent?

That is one of the more interesting elements of this whole process. Currently, we get nothing for the 20 million gallons a day that we discharge. So, in theory, if I were to get $1 for it, we would come out better. In reality, we did bit of research to try and find out what projects are out there and what other people are charging. It was a bit challenging because they’re aren’t very many in the Midwest. There are a few golf courses that use effluent about a hundred miles from here. But for the most part, they get a very large volume at a low rate. And that’s because the golf course happens to be right across from the water treatment plant. There really aren’t good models for effluent pricing.

We landed on a shared benefit/shared cost scenario. If Cronus was to buy from the drinking water plant, they would be charged about $3 per thousand gallons. However, they would get the pipeline subsidized by the drinking water plant, so it is really more like $2 per thousand gallons range. If we were much more than that, they would logically turn to the groundwater resource. That set a ceiling for the rate we could charge.

But there is also added risk associated with our flow because our water is not as pristine as good aquifer water. We aren’t required to treat it back to groundwater quality. And so, because of that added risk and the fact that they may need to do some chemical treatment on their end. We settled on charging just over $1 per thousand gallons. That’s the baseline price. On top of that, we get a 30 cent per thousand gallons add-on for our capital projects. That is how we will be funded for our lagoon and our pump station. Once we’ve been paid $3 million via that added amount, the extra fee will go away, and we will be back down to the $1 per thousand gallons. There is an inflation factor that is kicking in, so it is a bit more than that.

Ultimately, we will get about $2 million a year in income. Our expenses would be anywhere from $500,000 to a million dollars. So the benefit our ratepayers should expect to see is about $1 million a year net benefit, which is about 7 percent of our annual income. Some of that may be in value from the lagoon that won’t be a direct cash benefit. But we are aiming to keep the cash fraction as close to a full million as we can so that we can feel really good about this being a net benefit for the rate payers

One thing that I need to emphasize is that UCSD’s expenses have been going up continuously. I cannot and never will guarantee no rate increases. But I can absolutely guarantee that all of the finical benefit that UCSD gets will be seen by the rate payers in terms of avoided rate increases.

What other benefits can ratepayers expect?

Our board of trustees also voted to spend about $50,000 a year on habitat projects to make the creeks healthier in the long run. We consider that a reasonable thing to do with some of that income. That way the waterway will be healthier and better able to handle the drought conditions. By adding some pools and riffles, we can add some physical complexities that will help the fish and other aquatic species handle the stress of a drought better.

The pool and riffles idea is something the Illinois Department of Natural Resources has been looking to do for a number of years in the Copper Slough. They already have some money set aside for it as a result of a truck accident that spilled into the waterway. But they are looking for local matching funds, which they have had a hard time securing over the last few years. We would provide those local matching funds to allow that project to finally begin.

What’s the status of the deal with Cronus?

Cronus has announced that, if they build a plant, it will in Tuscola. And we have a contract to sell them effluent, so we would be their main water source if this all goes forward. Right now, they are looking to secure financing for the facility, so they are talking to financial people to get that secured. That is still a work in progress.

Is there an expected timeline?

It’s a process that has taken a few months and will take a few more. The finance people want a lot of assurances before they actually open up the check book. We are hoping for a positive announcement sometime soon. 

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