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WaterOperator.org Blog

Articles in support of small community water and wastewater operators.


Jill Wallitschek
Jill Wallitschek
Jill Wallitschek's Blog

Featured Video: Smelly Lagoon? Diagnosing and Correcting Lagoon Odors

Featured Video: Smelly Lagoon? Diagnosing and Correcting Lagoon Odors

As weather begins warming up for spring, many lagoons system owners have to manage odor issues and water turnover. In this week’s featured video, an experienced “Lagoon-atic” describes what causes lagoon odors and the best practices to manage them.

The most dreaded odors from lagoons systems are caused by sulfur dioxide and hydrogen sulfide gases. These gases emit a rotten egg odor that often leads to complaints from locals in the area. Under oxygen-stressed conditions, insufficient dissolved oxygen (DO) levels favor anaerobic digestion of biological oxygen demand (BOD) and sludge by sulfur bacteria.

There are many causes for low DO in lagoon systems including overloading, sludge build up, and lagoon turnover during season changes. The video suggests solutions for low DO reviewing aeration, baffles, bioaugmentation, and lagoon covers. When aeration is not financially practical, using a pump to recirculate the water can resolve most odor issues caused by sulfur bacteria.


This video also discusses the earthy smell of a healthy lagoon and other odor causing problems a lagoon may experience. Grassy odors indicate high levels of algae favored by warming temperatures, long detention times, excess sunlight, and excess nutrients. As spring approaches the solubilization of solids from the sludge blanket can cause nutrient release. This issue can be corrected by a reduction in the sludge blanket. Fishy odors may result from cyanobacteria growth under conditions with warm temperatures, high nutrient levels, thermal stratification, and still water. The longer water remains still, potential for cyanobacteria growth increases. Cyanobacteria can be reduced with chemical control, aeration, circulation, and ultrasonic waves. 

Spring time has potential to pose many odor issues for lagoon systems. Operators can maintain a healthy lagoon by ensuring sufficient DO levels, controlling sludge buildup, and mixing.

An Overview of Drinking Water Fluoridation

An Overview of Drinking Water Fluoridation
Despite a long history of dental health benefits, the fluoridation of community drinking water remains a topic of concern for many customers. Given this apprehension, water operators must be able to explain the societal impacts and history of water fluoridation to alleviate concerns. 

Fluoridating drinking water first began in 1945 in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The new practice resulted in a clear reduction in cavities and tooth decay, one of the most prevalent chronic diseases experienced during childhood to this day. As of 2014 about 74% of consumers under a community public water system received fluoridated water. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), school children in communities without fluoridation have 25% more tooth decay compared to children in treated communities. These cavities can cause a variety of issues related to pain, diet, sleep, physical health, and mental health.

With cost efficiency community fluoridation overcomes disparities in oral health regardless of community size, age, education, or income level. A dental health study found that the savings from fluoridation in communities of 1,000 people or more exceeded program costs by $20 per every dollar invested. When Juneau, Alaska voted to end fluoridation in 2007, a study found that children six years and under had an increase of one dental cavity per year, roughly equivalent to $300 in dental costs per child annually. Juneau’s increase in cavities was also reflected in adults.

All water contains some levels of naturally-occurring fluoride though these levels are often too low for health benefits. In untreated water, fluoride levels vary considerably with geology and land practices. Fluoride is introduced to water when dissolved from the Earth’s crust into groundwater or discharged from fertilizer and aluminum factories. Systems with fluoridation should set final levels near 0.7 mg/L as suggested by the Department of Public Health. This concentration factors for other sources of consumer fluoride exposure such as toothpaste. Fluorosilicic acid (FSA) is most commonly used in water treatment. Though fluoridation decisions are left to a state or local municipality, the EPA has established federal standards for the upper limits allowed in drinking water.

At high levels fluoride can cause the development of bone disease and tooth mottling. As a result, the EPA has set both the Maximum Contaminant Level Goal (MCLG) and the MCL for fluoride at 4 mg/L. Levels higher than 4 mg/L can lead to increased rates of bone fracture, Enamel Fluorosis, and Skeletal Fluorosis. If systems find fluoride concentrations higher than the MCL, they are required to notify customers within 30 days and potentially install treatment methods such as distillation or reverse osmosis to remove the excess fluoride. 

The EPA has also set a secondary standard for fluoride at 2.0 mg/L. The secondary standard is intended to be used as a guideline for an upper bound level in areas with high levels of naturally occurring fluoride. Below this level, the chance for tooth mottling and more severe health impacts are close to zero. Even if the secondary standard is reached, systems must notify customers. In the U.S. very few systems have exceeded the fluoride MCL at all. Where violations have occurred, the concentrations are generally a result of natural, geological conditions. 

Even with this track record, some concerned customers are still weary of fluoridation. When customers broach fluoridation concerns, operators can offer educational materials and refer customers to consumer confidences reports. The CDC and the EPA offers a variety of consumer-friendly educational material that operators can reference in addition to the resources linked in this blog post. Remember that good customer service starts by establishing a trusted relationship with your community.

Featured Video: Becoming a Water Operator

Featured Video: Becoming a Water Operator

Succession planning in the water industry has led to a growing demand for new operators. In addition to job security, the career path offers great benefits and opportunities to develop professionally while directly improving local communities. 

In this 10 minute interview by California Water Jobs, a successful operator describes the plans he accomplished to become an operations technician foreman for the Desert Water Agency. Before his career in water, Emmanuel Sarpong worked as a Field Radio Operator for the U.S. Marine Corps. He notes that his experience in the military gave him the discipline, communication skills, and problem solving abilities essential for utility operations and maintenance. A workday for Emmanuel is always changing, whether he’s putting treatment filters back on line, collecting water samples, or even pushing a broom for an upcoming tour.

To become an operator, Emmanuel began employment with a water utility as a general worker in construction. During this time he took correspondence courses with the state of California to obtain the certification that would allow him to advance into operations. He discusses his mentor Tom, an experienced foreman who trusted him to tackle projects that trained him in the skills he uses everyday. Emmanuel’s advice to operators is to keep pushing for higher levels of certification.