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WaterOperator.org Blog

Articles in support of small community water and wastewater operators.

A Microscopic Look at the Role and Life Cycle of Daphnia in Wastewater Lagoons

A Microscopic Look at the Role and Life Cycle of Daphnia in Wastewater Lagoons

Knowledge of lagoon microbiology can provide proactive insight into the present conditions of your wastewater treatment processes. Since we have already covered general wastewater microbiology in a previous featured video, this week’s blog post will highlight the specific roles of Daphnia in wastewater digestion.

Daphnia, also known as water fleas and Ceriodaphnia, are metazoan crustaceans that maintain a useful position in the wastewater digestion food chain if controlled by a limiting food source or the careful addition of hyacinths. These one-eyed crustaceans can consume yeast, algae, bacteria, protozoa and occasionally sludge during the winter. In the wild Daphnia are a food source for small fish, tad poles, and aquatic insects. General stressors for water fleas include cold temperatures, overcrowding, low dissolved oxygen (DO), high ammonia levels, and high pH.

To provide context for Daphnia's role in lagoon treatment requires a review of the wastewater food chain. Bacteria are at the heart of waste digestion breaking down organic material into settleable particles. Protozoa feed on these bacteria populations reducing the organic load. Metazoan organisms like Daphnia keep the populations of protozoa, bacteria, and algae in check.

Daphnia can be useful to wastewater operators under healthy lagoon conditions. These water fleas control green algae populations in the summer. As long as cyanobacteria weren't competing with those algae populations, overall pond health will improve by a reduction in total suspended solids (TSS), cloudiness, and turbidity. At the cost of growing Daphnia populations, dissolved oxygen levels decrease.

Water fleas are often indicators for low dissolved oxygen and water toxicity. Under low DO, Daphnia produce hemoglobin to increase oxygen efficiency. This hemoglobin turns water fleas reddish-pink causing red streaks to appear in your lagoon. When operators see red water fleas, they should consider treating the lagoon with aeration or mixing. Given their low tolerance to toxicity and short generational cycles, Daphnia are also used in the EPA's whole effluent toxicity tests (WET).

Now that we have a better understanding of water fleas, we can appreciate this microscopic view of Daphnia as told by Sacramento Splash. The video reviews the natural life cycle and anatomy of these helpful water crustaceans.

Data Protection and Cybersecurity for Small and Medium Systems

Data Protection and Cybersecurity for Small and Medium Systems

Many water utilities rely on online technology and computer systems to increase their working efficiency. In the office space, data management software, pay roll systems, customer billing programs, utility websites, and social media improve customer services and provide an organized method to retain and access utility information. On the operational side, employees may rely on remote access control systems such as SCADA or smart metering to monitor or control systems while performing maintenance in the field. These control systems allow for improved response times and monitoring.

Yet as we all learned from Spiderman, with great power comes great responsibility. Without sufficient cybersecurity measures, systems risk the health and security of their customers. Successful attackers can steal customer personal data such as credit cards, social security numbers, and contact information. They may attempt to deface utility websites compromising customer confidence. If your system uses online process control systems, hackers could lock out utility access, alter treatment processes, damage equipment, and override alarms. The American Water Works Association (AWWA) has listed a variety of cyberattacks and their consequences in its 2018 Cybersecurity Risk & Responsibility in the Water Sector Report. These attacks resulted in leaked customer information, considerable financial losses, altered chemical dosing, and even source water contamination. Just recently staring in May of 2019 the City of Baltimore has been held hostage by an ongoing three week cyberattack that demands $100,000 in Bitcoin to free city files and water billing data.

There are many types of cyberattacks including password hacking, the exploitation of software vulnerabilities, denial of service, and malware. Common malware includes ransomware, spyware, trojan horse, viruses, and key loggers. Attacks can even happen through opportunity theft, improper disposal of computer equipment, or phishing attempts where thieves pose as legitimate organizations requesting confidential information.

To prevent cyberattacks, start by identifying vulnerabilities, developing a multi-tier security plan, and actively enforcing that plan. The EPA has developed a guide explaining 10 key components for a cybersecurity plan that includes planning worksheets and information on how to respond in the event of an attack. Systems should plan to update software regularly and require strong passwords that are different for each account. Installing anti-virus software and firewalls is also effective. A security plan should include measures to educate employees on cybersecurity awareness and limit access to security information based on job function.

For an in-depth list of security practices, read through WaterISAC’s 2019 guide to reduce exploitable weaknesses or the EPA’s Incident Action Checklist. The AWWA’s guide on Process Control System Security Guidance for the Water Sector can aid systems using smart technology. To improve social media and website security, start with Hootsuite’s social media security tips and Sucuri’s website security tips.

If a data breech does occur, utilities will want to have and established protocol to resolve and mitigate potential damage. The Cyber Security Adviser Program with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) offers regional affiliates that will assist systems in vulnerability assessments, plan development, and informational support. While the costs associated with response, forensics, and legal fees can be expensive, waiting to take action can incur an even greater cost. Remember to keep an active cybersecurity plan and, if incidents should occur, report them to local law enforcement, the DHS, and WaterISAC.

Featured Videos: Pump Curves and Pump Selection Basics

Featured Videos: Pump Curves and Pump Selection Basics

Pump curves inform operators to select and run pumps at optimal efficiency for their system. Whether preparing for a certification exam or looking to refresh your knowledge of pump hydraulics, this week’s featured videos will teach you how to read pump curves, calculate system curves, and use these curves to select an ideal pump for your system.

For any given pump, flow will impact pressure head, efficiency, horse power requirements, and vulnerability to pump damage. This video reviews three different pump curves starting with a very simple curve and moving to more complex curves with increasing pump information. Understanding performance, efficiency, horsepower, and net positive suction head (NPSH) curves is essential in selecting the proper pump for your system’s needs. After covering the basics, this video introduces concepts that will help operators to select and run pumps at recommended operating zones to maximize pump life and reduce operational costs.


Once you start to feel comfortable with these concepts, the next step is learning how to compare pump curves to your own system. For pump curves to be useful during selection, you must first have a system curve of your own. Prepare for a bit of math because this next video walks through the calculations needed to develop a simplified equation that graphs system pressure head (Hp) as a function of flow rate (Q) squared. When watching the video, remember that z1 is the starting elevation and z2 is the final elevation.


With a well developed knowledge of pump curves and system curves, selecting a new pump becomes much easier. This last video demonstrates how to compare the system curve to the pump curve . When comparing these two graphs, the pump’s best efficiency point should be fairly close to the system operating point. Other considerations include how much power is required to operate the pump and the net positive suction head available to avoid pump cavitation. 

These videos simplify many of the factors that go into a real system, however they offer a good foundation for operators to better understand the theory behind pump curves and pump selection.

A Review of the EPA's New Drinking Water Training System

A Review of the EPA's New Drinking Water Training System

The newest tool released by the EPA allows operators to learn about national primary drinking water regulations through an online and self-paced training system. According to the EPA, this system was developed at the request of states, water associations, and operators. Stakeholders wanted operators to have accessible regulatory training easily available to an industry where shrinking resources and a retiring workforce make taking time away from water facilities difficult.

Approximately 130 training modules on various drinking water rules make up the system. The modules runs well in most browsers as long as Adobe Flash is installed and running. Both audio and closed captions are available during the training with the option to run the modules at your own pace. To use this system, each operator will have to create their own account using an email address that has not been registered prior.

The system has a fairly easy setup. When an operator signs in, the homepage shows an Announcements section that will update users on new modules or changes to the system. Operators can design their own lesson plan for the regulations that apply to their system under the Curriculum Builder. The Builder asks questions about the system type, source water, and treatment methods. A new curriculum can be made and started at any time with each curriculum found under the Curriculum List.

Usually 5-15 modules will make up a curriculum. Each module will cover a different rule with a quiz of 4-5 questions at the end. The operator must answer each question correctly to pass. If operators want to run through the modules individually they can find a list under the Course Catalog tab, however this mode does not offer quizzes or completion credit by the system. A complete list of training modules available as of May 2019 can be found here.

An interesting feature to note about the training is that within each module slide includes the CFR citation number so operators can find the corresponding rule in the Code of Federal Regulations. It should also be noted that these topics cover federal regulations only and do not apply to states with stricter drinking water requirements.

When a training has been completed, the Certificates tab will create a print out certificate of the desired curriculum. The only drawback for operators is that this training is not pre-approved for CEUs in any states as of yet. To provide credit, a state primacy will have to review each of the 130 modules. The next plans for this training system involves designing new modules on Special Drinking Water Topics. While these modules have yet to be developed, drinking water operators can look forward to those resources in the future!

Featured Video - WaterClips: Financial Benchmarking for Water Utilities

Featured Video - WaterClips: Financial Benchmarking for Water Utilities

In this Featured Video, the Environmental Finance Center at UNC-Chapel Hill reviews the basics on how to properly monitor utility finances. Financial monitoring is crucial in making successful short-term and long-term management decisions to maintain optimal treatment levels, good customer service, and the longevity of your system. The financial benchmarking methods covered in this video include Current Ratio, Days Cash on Hand, Operating Ratio, and Debt Service Coverage Ratio. Implementing consistent benchmarking tools will ensure that your utility is working to cover the true system costs while planning for infrastructure depreciation and unexpected expenses.

Tools and Resources for Workforce Planning

Tools and Resources for Workforce Planning

Workforce planning is an essential step in any small system’s asset management plan. Just as your utility cannot run without functioning infrastructure, services will not continue in the absence of a talented, knowledgeable operator. Without developing and facilitating workforce development plans, you risk the short and long-term security of your system and your customer's health.

That being said, workforce planning can often seem overwhelming. Many rural systems rely on just a few people to take on the many positions that keep a system running. If those employees left, much of their system knowledge would be lost with no one capable to take over. Yet the struggle to find and retain talent for small systems won’t get any easier without action.

In this blog post, we’ll review helpful resources for small systems in succession planning, knowledge transfer, employee hiring and retention, and talent attraction.

Succession planning can become considerably less overwhelming when you invest a small amount of time each day to increase your knowledge of workforce development. This white paper by the the New York Water Environment Association summarizes the resources needed for succession planning. To actually develop your own plan, this one hour webinar by the Environmental Finance Center covers how to write and implement a plan by evaluating your utility’s workforce condition, identifying critical positions, understanding employee life cycles, and facilitating leadership development plans.

An important step identified in any succession plan involves implementing knowledge management techniques to retain critical employee institutional knowledge. An article from Kansas Rural Water Association’s The Kansas Life Line describes how employees can make small changes to their day to create digital workflow records that can be easily found by future employees. The EPA has also developed a knowledge retention tool operators can use to consolidate utility information onto one document.

Among the challenges associated with discovering new talent, managers must also learn better practices for recruiting and retaining new employees. The Environmental Finance Center has written a useful blog that describes how to hire utility staff through online job networks and how to retain those employees through performance evaluations. For a more in-depth resource on talent recruitment and retention, the Water Research Foundation partnered with the EPA to publish research findings on operator and engineer recruitment strategies. Chapter five lists the strategies developed from their research. For a video geared more toward small systems, check out the Environmental Finance Center’s one hour webinar on recruiting new staff.

To recruit and retain employees, managers will have to understand generational differences. While these differences can seem daunting, an Environmental Finance Center blog points out that many other generations in their twenties were labeled with a similar stigma. The article debunks many misconceptions about millennials.

When it comes to any age group, utilities find that a lack of awareness about the profession makes hiring new talent in the water sector difficult. Though many states, local governments, colleges, and water organizations are working to draw interest to this career path, small water utilities can also participate.

The Work in Water program at Wichita State teaches utilities how to engage schools and develop internships while offering mini-grants to cover program costs. If you’re interested in developing your own internship program, you can also check out the internship guidebook developed by Baywork for their own program. In addition utilities can work with their local Rural Water Association’s apprenticeship program to take on apprentices. Military veterans are another group utilities can recruit since they already possess a series of practical professional skills. The American Water Works Association has created a 12 page guide that provides veteran recruiting tips

Every workforce development plan is unique. With these resources, it's left up to you and your facility to determine what methods will best achieve the goals set for your community.

What Operators Should Know about PFAS in 2019

What Operators Should Know about PFAS in 2019

In February of 2019, the EPA released an action plan to manage the contamination of poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) in water. The plan will propose an MCL regulatory determination for perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) detected under the UCMR3 by the end of 2019 and will continue environmental cleanup.

The UCMR3 found that areas with affiliated industrial sites, military fire training, and wastewater treatment plants were associated with PFOA and PFOS detection. Once released, PFASs can persist in the environment for the long periods of time, bioaccumulating in humans and animals that consume contaminated drinking water. A new health advisory for these chemicals has set the maximum recommended concentration in drinking water at 70 ppt. Exposure above this threshold may cause developmental defects, cancer, liver damage, immune issues, metabolic effects, and endocrine changes. 

Unfortunately, a health advisory is not enough to protect consumers from PFAS in drinking water as it does not legally require utilities to take action against unsafe levels. In the absence of necessary regulatory authority, several states have pushed forward with their own policies. These states have struggled with how to implement a standard without clear federal guidelines. Despite this, many states are working to set or have already set their own maximum contaminant levels. 

Options for reducing exposure to elevated PFAS contamination include changing sources, closing off contaminated wells, alteration of blending rates, or implementation of treatment. Studies have found that granular activated carbon (GAC), ion exchange, or membrane separation can treat PFAS. The removal efficiency can reach 98-99%, but it will ultimately depends on the length of the PFAS chain and the treatment method used. Installing a new treatment method is financially devastating for many systems. Alabama’s West Morgan East Lawrence Water and Sewer Authority (WMEL) estimates that the costs to install a permanent R.O. filter will reach $30-50 million. The authority has filed a lawsuit that could assist with funding the necessary upgrades.


There is currently no standardized analysis approved for PFAS testing in drinking water, however laboratories have modified the EPA groundwater detection method 537 for systems in need of monitoring. When using this method, the EPA recommends that systems “evaluate its appropriateness relative to your goals for the data.” In some locations PFAS regulators and manufacturers have also set up programs to monitor groundwater contamination. You can contact your state primacy to learn about these types of resources. 

If test results repeatedly indicate water concentrations of 70 ppt or greater for either contaminant, systems should follow any existing state regulations and promptly notify their primacy and customers. In absence of regulations, c
ustomers should be informed of the health effects and advised to consume bottled water until a better option is available. Download a consumer-friendly fact sheet from CDC.

Featured Video: Flushable Wipe's Effects on Our Sewer System

Featured Video: Flushable Wipe's Effects on Our Sewer System

Many collection systems struggle to prevent the costly and time consuming repairs associated with flushable wipes. Despite the label these wipes remain intact in sewer systems. They often clump into large blockages held together by grease. When the blockage becomes too large, sewers experience sanitary backups and pricey pump damage. 

This week’s featured video reviews the management options for flushable wipes as explained by Great Lakes Water Authority. One common solution for wipe buildup requires the installation of sewer grates and filter screens. Though operators will be required to regularly clear away wipe accumulation, systems can plan for the added maintenance expenses while preventing unexpected downtime. Other systems may choose to break down wipes with chopper pumps or grinder pumps, however this can lead to reweaving later in the collection system.

The video ultimately demonstrates that there is no single and efficient method to avoid wipe backups other than consumer education. With the final costs of wipe maintenance funded by the rate-payer, collection systems should be vocal in educating their customers about the products that can and cannot be flushed down the toilet. For more information on flushable products, check out our blog post Will it Flush.

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 confidence 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.