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WaterOperator.org Blog

Articles in support of small community water and wastewater operators.


Cassia Smith
Cassia Smith
Cassia Smith's Blog

Featured Video: Differences in Public Supply Well Vulnerability

Have you ever wondered why one of your wells has consistent problems with nitrates, E. coli, or other contaminants, while another one has a different set of problems or is totally fine? The answer may be in the ground under your feet. The geology and aquifer characteristics of your area affect how vulnerable a well is to contamination and influence the kinds of contamination most likely to affect your well. A well in an aquifer that's mostly sand will behave very differently than a well drilled in an area with a lot of sinkholes. An aquifer that's nothing but sand from close to the surface all the way to the bottom will behave differently than an aquifer with a layer of clay between the sand and the surface. And the differences go on.

To explore exactly how this works, the USGS studied four public supply wells, each from a distinct area of the country with a unique aquifer structure. Their findings on the kinds of contamination that affected these wells can be found in these four factsheets as well as in the 12-and-a-half minute video below:

Now that you have some idea of the kinds of contamination that may be affecting your well, you might have new ideas for protecting your well as well. Check out the USEPA's sourcewater protection resources for more information on developing or improving a groundwater protection plan for your utility. If you'd like to provide local private well owners with similar information on their own wells, you might want to check out our education materials for well owners at The Private Well Class.

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: Control Valve Disassembly

Sometimes, operations and maintenance means taking things apart and putting them together again. If that's what you need to do right now, this video could get you halfway there. This eight-and-a-half minute video walks through the tools and steps needed to disassemble two kinds of control valves: a pump control valve and a pressure reducing valve. It includes a number of helpful hints and tricks, such as useful hand tools you can make yourself, and markings that will help with reassembly. (Reassembly instructions are not included in the video though.)


To see the complete disassembly, inspection, and reassembly process for the pump control valve, see this video.

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.

Featured Video: Lower Rio Grande Public Water Works Authority

There are a lot of rewards to living in a rural community: seeing just enough of your neighbors, lots of satisfying work, and (depending on where you live) getting to see the beauty of nature in the way a city dweller never can. Unfortunately for rural water utility operators, some of these benefits don't completely translate to their jobs. If you're the only operator---the only employee---at a rural utility, sometimes independence and hard work end up meaning the operation of the utility is all up to you all the time. Never being able to take a day off or have a vacation can be tiring enough. But you add in some of the weather Mother Nature can produce while she's busy being scenic, and sometimes you end up working nights, weekends, and 24-hour days, trying to keep your friends and neighbors supplied with clean, safe drinking water.

If this sounds familiar, a regional partnership might offer you a little breathing space. Regional partnerships can give you the opportunity to get a nearby operator to cover your utility while you take a vacation or go to town for a doctor's visit. Pooling your resources with other rural utilities can also help you qualify for employer insurance, access tools and resources from neighboring communities, and meet other knowledgeable operators. This 7-minute video from the Rural Community Assistance Corporation shows how a regional partnership helped unincorporated communities known as colonias help each other:

Lower Rio Grande Public Water Works Authority from RCAC on Vimeo.

To see more resources for water utilities from RCAC, check out their Guidebooks.

Featured Video: This American Land: Critical Aquifer

If you're in an area of the country that's naturally dry, or in one of the states currently experiencing drought, you've probably had a lot of time to think about how to save water. Tips for conserving water around the home are a Google away (or check our document database!), but chances are, your biggest local water users aren't residential. If your area is dry enough that you need to be thinking about water use on a regional scale, then your local farmers may be needing some water conservation help too. In this 7-minute video, the USDA NRCS discusses the Ogallala Aquifer Initiative, where they worked with local farmers to grow more crops with less water:

If you want to learn more about the Ogallala Aquifer Initiative, check out this article. If you want to learn more about water conservation at water utilities, go to our document database, type "water conservation" (without the quote marks) into the Keyword Search field, and select Type "Manuals/Handbooks". Then click "Retrieve Documents".

Featured Video: Communicating Science

As a water utility professional, you probably spend at least some time talking to people about your job. Whether you're explaining operations to a utility board, breaking down a bill for a customer, or just chatting at a barbeque, eventually, someone is going to want to know how and why you do what you do. For some of you, this might be an easy task--you're an outgoing educator with a passion for your job. For others though, getting asked questions on the spot makes your mind go blank and your palms go sweaty. Still others may be happy to talk, but have a hard time getting people interested in what you have to say. Trying to help people understand a topic as complex as water and wastewater treatment can be a challenge, particularly when you're immersed in the topic yourselves. Add in the financial challenges some small systems face, and opening up meaningful communication with your community can feel even more daunting.



Scientists face similar challenges. Like water operators, scientists have a lot of knowledge about complex fields with specialized jargon. The work they do may not be obvious to people outside the profession, just like utility operations can feel hidden in plain sight. One resource that helps scientists learn how to communicate with the press and other non-scientists is the Alda-Kavli Center for Science Communication. In this video, co-founder Alan Alda talks about his inspiration for starting the Center and some of the basic communication principles he keeps in mind:



To read about water utility outreach programs, visit our document database and type "public relations" (without the quote marks) into the Keyword search field, then click "Retrieve Documents." Being open with your community about the challenges and successes at their utility can help you gain public support, even when you need to undertake big projects like rate hikes or infrastructure overhauls. Even if you don't have big projects looming on the horizon, taking the extra time to engage with your community can make your job more rewarding, and builds goodwill for when you do need a helping hand. If nothing else, taking some time to think about these issues ahead of time will give you some better conversation topics at your next barbeque.

Featured Video: Rural Missouri Climate Adaptation

Though it may still feel like spring, depending on where you are in the country, summer is just around the corner. And with summer comes the possibility of drought. Is your utility at risk of drought conditions? Do you know what you'd do if a drought visited your community? Occasional but severe weather events can feel hard to plan for, but not planning at all can make the situation worse. In this 2-minute video, a small rural community in Missouri talks about the planning efforts they're taking on to be prepared for drought in the future, after a particularly tough 2012. Interestingly, their plans to combat drought mesh well with their concerns about sediment in their source water supply as well.

If you'd like to learn more about climate adaptation planning for your utility, check out the tools available through the EPA's Climate Resilient Water Utilities portal, and in particular their risk assessment tool.

Featured Video: Is Your Drinking Water Protected?

For the last two weeks, our featured videos have talked about the benefits of stormwater management. While stormwater management and green infrastructure are great ways of protecting your source water, a lot more goes into source water protection. Source water protection plans, wellhead protection plans, and watershed protection areas can all play a vital role in ensuring your source water enters your treatment plant in the best condition possible. This week's video takes three minutes to summarize the financial, environmental, and water quality benefits of formal source water protection planning. It does mention the state of Pennsylvania specifically, but much of the information is useful to anyone considering these questions.


If you're interested in learning more about how source water protection planning works, you might be interested in the materials offered by the Washington Department of Health's Source Water Protection program and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality's Wellhead Protection program. 

Featured Video: Green Infrastructure for Small Rural Communities

Last week, we shared videos for educating your consumers in ways to improve stormwater quality and increase infiltration. But maybe you're interested in these topics as well. In that case, this week's video is for you. This hour-long webinar recording highlights green infrastructure efforts taken on by two small, rural communities. Representatives from the utilities in those communities discuss reasons why they wanted to take on stormwater management, reasons why they chose green infrastructure, the projects and programs they implemented, lessons learned, and project funding. It includes before and after and process images, but is not a highly detailed build guide.

> For public outreach stormwater videos, see last week's blog. For more practical insights into the construction of stormwater management structures, search our document database using the category Stormwater and type Manuals/Handbooks. If you want to narrow it down further, try selecting by your state or a state near you, or type "BMP" (without the quote marks) in the Keyword search filter.