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WaterOperator.org Blog

Articles in support of small community water and wastewater operators.

Featured Video: Lift Station 2 Pump Cleaning

Featured Video: Lift Station 2 Pump Cleaning

Lift stations are designed to move sewage from a lower to higher elevation through pumps and pipes. Once pumped to a higher elevation, sewage continues to move through the collection system via gravity to reach the wastewater treatment plant. Utilities typically install one of two types of lift stations. Submersible pump lift stations, also called wet well lift stations, contain the pumps, sewage, and floats all in one vault. Dry well lift stations use two vaults to separate the pump system and wastewater. To learn more about lift station operations, components, sizing calculations, inspections, maintenance, emergency response, and pump selection for both types, check out the U.S. EPA’s Wastewater Utility Operation and Management for Small Communities – Lift Station Overview webcast recording.

Learning the theory behind lift station operations, maintenance, and emergency response is an essential component to any wastewater operator’s training, however hands-on experience is also important. While we can’t give you hands on experience in a blog post, the following video offers a real world example of lift station maintenance. In this video, a Minnesota operator demonstrates how to remove debris from a clogged pump at his facility’s lift station. He also overviews the various components on the lift station control panel. Please note that when troubleshooting lift stations you should first be trained in operator safety. Safety topics to review before working with lift stations include lock out tag out, confined space, electrical safety, fall protection, crane safety, and tail gate safety.

Increasing Attention to Significant Noncompliance Dischargers

Increasing Attention to Significant Noncompliance Dischargers

WaterOperator.org would like to thank EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance for helping develop this blog post as part of its outreach to permittees about the Clean Water Act National Compliance Initiative.

National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit compliance protects public health and the environment from the release of harmful contaminants. During FY 2018 approximately 20% of the nation's 46,000 permit holders were in significant non-compliance (SNC) violations. SNCs are designated as serious violations warranting enforcement response if not promptly resolved. These violations ranged from significant exceedances in effluent limits to reporting failures. To better defend environmental and public health, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has initiated a National Compliance Initiative (NCI) for NPDES permits and, in September, released a Compliance Advisory.

The NCI uses a full range of compliance assurance tools to reduce NPDES permittees non-compliance. By FY 2022 the NCI aims to reduce SNC rates by half. Small systems, this includes you too! This NCI will target facilities of all sizes equally. More attention will be directed toward facilities approaching or already in SNC. Facilities failing to comply can be subject to increased monitoring, inspections, enforcement actions, and other compliance activities. The NCI notes that permittees that voluntarily disclose and correct violations may be eligible for a reduction or elimination of penalties.

While this initiative might feel intimidating, the NCI offers resources to those taking immediate compliance efforts. The EPA recommends permittees first assess compliance by reviewing discharge monitoring reports (DMRs) and the Enforcement & Compliance History Online (ECHO) tool. If your facility does require assistance, reach out to your NPDES permitting authority for assistance. Other organizations like Rural Community Assistance Partnership (RCAP) and National Rural Water Association (NRWA) may also be able to provide assistance. Each state implements their own NPDES programs with the exception of New Mexico, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and areas within Indian Country which are managed federally.

Small system SNCs can originate from a variety of causes. Failure to monitor, analyze, and report wastewater samples according to your NPDES permit can lead to a violation. Alternatively, incomplete or inaccurate compliance data transferred from state systems to the EPA’s Integrated Compliance Information System (ICIS) system can result in inaccurate identification of SNC permittees. Checking your compliance status in ECHO can prevent these complications. In addition to monitoring and reporting violations, unplanned discharges such as from a sanitary sewer overflow can also result in SNC. When wastewater effluent exceeds NPDES pollutant levels, utilities will also fall out of compliance. These exceedances typically arise as a result of operational, design, or administrative issues. We recommend the following resources to help improve your NPDES compliance:

Activated Sludge Process Control and Troubleshooting Methodology
Resolve 95% of your activated sludge process control issues using this Ohio EPA manual.

EPA’s ECHO Electronic Tool
The ECHO Detailed Facility Report tool helps facilities monitor compliance and verify the cause of SNC. Learn how to use the tool through the “Intro to ECHO Webinar” and other materials on this webpage.

EPA Webinars: Technical Assistance for Publicly Owned Treatment Works (POTWs)
The EPA hosts free webinars once a month offering technical assistance to POTWs. Find these webinars on our national training calendar or at the link above.

Managing Small Domestic Wastewater Systems
This TCEQ guide helps utilities develop plans to maintain or achieve compliance. The guide includes compliance checklists and planning worksheets. For additional assistance, TCEQ has developed and referenced resources for troubleshooting anything from bacteria control to process control.

Why Is My Lagoon Not Meeting Effluent Limits?
This article from the November 2016 issue of The Kansas Lifeline summarizes how to troubleshoot lagoon effluent compliance issues.

To find solutions to more specific compliance challenges, check out the WaterOperator.org resource library and small systems blog posts.

Featured Video: Why Are 96,000,000 Black Balls on This Reservoir?

Featured Video: Why Are 96,000,000 Black Balls on This Reservoir?

In 2015 the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power went viral when it unleashed 96 million shade balls into the Los Angeles Reservoir. The 175 acre reservoir served to store 3.3 billion gallons of treated drinking water. Shade balls were previously introduced to three other reservoirs in the LA area between 2008 and 2012. Releasing the 96 million balls marked the end of a 8 year project.

The project was first instigated when the Department of Water and Power was notified of high bromate levels in their water. Bromate (BrO3) is a disinfection byproduct regulated at 0.01 mg/L. High levels can increase risk of cancer. The chemical forms when bromide (Br ), an otherwise harmless ion, reacts with ozone (O3). For this reason treatment plants that use ozone are required to monitor for bromate monthly. Qualifying plants can reduce their monitoring to quarterly.

The LA Department of Water and Power determined that while they were finding low levels at the treatment facility, levels were elevated at the reservoirs. Upon investigation the facility realized that bromate can form under chlorination as well. When chlorinated water containing bromide reacts with sunlight, it forms bromate at even higher concentrations than ozonation. This realization prompted the facility to look toward a solution.

Removing the naturally occurring bromide wasn’t an option. Chlorination residual was necessary to protect public health. Ultimately the Department determined that sunlight was the only variable left to control.

After brainstorming for affordable and effective covers that could block sunlight across 175 acres, the Department discovered a product called “bird balls”. At the time, bird balls were used to deter waterfowl from swimming in contaminated water bodies or ponds near airport runways. These balls were made from high density polyethylene, a floatable, food grade plastic. The addition of carbon black gives them a black color and increases their life expectancy to approximately 10 years without sun bleaching. After consulting the manufacture, the balls were put through a small-scale test to access their bromate reduction abilites. The shade balls passed with flying colors.

Shade balls not only reduce bromate formation in the reservoir, but they deter birds, control algae, and reduce evaporation by 80 to 90%. Having been implemented under historical drought conditions, the innovation was applauded for its water saving results. According to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology these shade balls will have to be used for roughly 2.5 years to compensate for the water required to produce them. Since less chlorine is required to control algae formation with the adoption of shade balls, the treatment facility is experiencing significant cost savings as well. Over the course of their life span the reduction in chlorine use and evaporation will have paid for roughly half the shade balls.

Shortly after their installation, one of the reservoirs was removed from service and two of the remaining reservoirs transitioned to floating covers. Federal law requires that all drinking water bodies open to the air be covered. Transitioning the final Los Angeles Reservoir would have been too cost prohibitive based on its size. So given the effectiveness of the shade balls in such a large area, they shall remain in the Los Angeles Reservoir to prevent bromate formation, evaporation, and algae for the Los Angeles people.

Best Practices for In-Person Training During COVID-19

Best Practices for In-Person Training During COVID-19

To provide operators with continuing education opportunities during the pandemic, many training providers have adapted their classes to virtual training. These efforts have resulted in new online training opportunities and have allowed operators to earn their much-needed continuing education credits. Despite these efforts, not all training topics can be offered in an online format to all operators. Some training topics require equipment demonstrations and hands-on practice. In addition, some operators have limited internet access or may find it difficult to learn in an online setting.

For these reasons and others, some training providers have returned to an in-person training format. In this post, we have summarized COVID-19 safety trends our staff have observed from training providers as they resume in-person training. Using these trends, as well as CDC guidelines, we have provided a compiled set of recommendations to protect operators registered for in-person training.

Looking through training registration webpages and memos posted regarding the resumption of in-person training, the bulk of training providers have noted that they intend to follow local, state, and federal safety guidelines during class and in preparation of the class. This generally includes social distancing, the requirement of masks, and a restriction on the number of registrants per class. Many providers will also require students to fill out a COVID-19 screening checklist as well. Training providers of colleges or areas with higher infection rates trended to have stricter and more detailed guidelines. Classes developed around the use of hands-on equipment such as backflow prevention workshops, developed specific guidelines for how equipment will be maintained during the course.

The most thorough training providers include safety information about instructor requirements, student requirements, and facility requirements. Some of these trainers designated their own hotline to report cases or ask additional questions about COVID safety.

Based on our review of these recommendations, we have put together “best of” guidelines that training providers can use to protect their operators.

Classroom Preparation:

  • Training will follow federal, state, and local guidelines
  • Prepare the facility according to CDC Facility Disinfection guidelines
  • All employees should be trained and certified on personal hygiene and surface sanitation/ disinfection procedures. See the Disinfecting Your Facility guidance by the CDC.
  • Instructors are to remain at least 6 feet away from students
  • Set up the chairs or workstations no less than 6 feet apart
  • Provide hand sanitation stations throughout training facility
  • Place posters in popular areas that encourage hand hygiene
  • Specify entrances and exits through signs or floor tape
  • Ensure that the check-in table provides a notice to:
    • Require mask use and proper hand hygiene
    • Inform of hand sanitizer stations
    • Prohibit handshakes, encouraging other noncontact greetings
    • Direct employees to visit the CDC’s coughing/sneezing etiquette and clean hands webpage
    • Inform guests of specified entrances and exits visible for the use of classes
    • Request students fill out pre-screening questions
  • Training will be rescheduled or moved if the host site experiences an active COVID-19 case within the 2 weeks of class

Classroom Maintenance:

  • Disinfect common surfaces (doorknobs, bathroom fixtures, classroom tables, chairs, etc.) before class, once mid-morning, once mid-afternoon, and after students leave for the day
  • Limit bathroom use to one or two people at a time to maintain social distancing
  • Suspend food consumption or drinks inside classroom
  • Suspend food service or offer pre-boxed meals during breaks
  • Require students eat outside or in designated areas set up for social distancing.

Student Requirements:

  • Students should be directed to review safety requirements and pre-screening questions prior to the training
  • Upon arrival Students should be directed to fill out a liability waiver acknowledging the measures taken by the training provider to prevent the spread of COVID-19, their compliance, and who should be held liable if illness occurs. An excellent example of this waiver was developed and used Arkansas Rural Water Association. Such waivers can require that:
    • Students must wear a mask according to CDC guidelines
    • Additional PPE, including protective gloves, may be required during certain tasks
    • Students must follow social distancing guidelines to maintain 6 feet of distance between the instructor and other students
    • Students will wash hands frequently for 20 seconds avoiding contact with the eyes, nose, or mouth
    • Students follow appropriate coughing etiquette
    • Students must refrain from eating or drinking in the classroom
    • Students will adhere to all safety guidelines set by training provider
  • Upon arrival Students should read and sign a prescreening questionnaire that certifies:
    • I am not experiencing any symptom of illness such as cough, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, fever, chills, repeated shaking with chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat, or new loss of taste or smell
    • I have not traveled internationally or out of state within the last 14 days
    • To my knowledge, I have not been exposed to someone with a suspected and/or confirmed COVID-19 case in the last 14 days
    • I have not tested positive for COVID-19 in the last 14 days
  • If resources provide, students will have their temperature checked before entrance. Students with temperatures above 100ºF will be denied.
  • Students should bring their own writing utensil, books, paper, and calculator. No sharing is permitted.
  • If diagnosed with COVID-19 or exhibiting symptoms within 2 weeks of the training or if exposed to COVID-19 during the training, students must notify the training provider

Equipment Expectations:

  • Instructors observing student(s) must remain 6 feet away from the testing station and student
  • When hands on equipment is used, attendees will get their own piece of equipment that stays in class
  • Each cart and testing station will be routinely cleaned, sanitized, and disinfected before the start of class and after each session
  • All tools and test kits will be routinely cleaned, sanitized, and disinfected before the start of class and after each student has complete

While continued training opportunities are important, the health of our essential workers must be priority. WaterOperator.org hopes that all training facilities offering in-person classes are taking every possible to protect their students.

A note to our operators: If you’re looking to attend an in-person training, investigate the training provider safety measures before registration. If these measures aren’t available online, it’s always best to call ahead. WaterOperator.org lists live, online and in-person training opportunities in our national training calendar.

Chemical Grouting: A Solution to Infiltration

Chemical Grouting: A Solution to Infiltration

Editor's Note: We want to thank Avanti International for permission to use their photo as Figure 1 in this post.

Infiltration is defined as an excess of unwanted water entering a sanitary wastewater system from groundwater or storm water. More specifically, infiltration occurs when groundwater enters the sanitary sewer through defects in pipes and manholes (Figure 1). This excess water can cause damage to the collection system when sewers are forced to transport more flow than they are designed to handle. Increased effluent also raises wastewater treatment costs because the facility must treat harmless storm water and groundwater with the sewage. This added flow increases wear on equipment, electrical cost, and overall operation and maintenance expenses. In addition, if the capacity of the collection system or treatment plant is exceeded, untreated wastewater may be discharged into the environment.

infiltration source diagram

Figure 1. Potential Sources for Infiltration

As with most utility problems, there are many potential solutions. For infiltration where defects are localized, some of these solutions include mechanical point repair, injection methods, or rerounding. A discussion of the chemical grout injection option is given below. 

The chemicals used for grouting have been available since the early 1960s. They are usually urethane based and when they come in contact with water react to form a polymer material that is a barrier to water flow. The conditions/steps required for grouting are:

  1. A pipe or joint cannot be failing structurally
  2. There must be a path for the grouting solution to flow out into the soil
  3. The area must be free of debris such as roots, grease and other obstacles that may prevent proper application of the grout.
  4. Application of the chemicals at a pressure higher than the water table of inflowing water.
  5. Final testing of the repair (air pressure or visually).

A video providing an overview of this process using remotely operated equipment is given below.

 

Chemical grouting can also be applied manually and can stop the leak almost instantly. A video of manual grouting for a leak in sewer wall is shown below. 


In summary, chemical grouting technology for stopping infiltration is attractive because the chemicals are non-toxic to the wastewater treatment plant and can be applied using remote controlled equipment or manually for small localized defects. Chemical grouting is a flexible low cost option for infiltration repairing of sewer mains in addition to sewer laterals.

Preventing & Responding to Security Threats

Preventing & Responding to Security Threats

Facility and infrastructural security are an important component of any emergency response plan. Whether the outcome can result in vandalism, theft, terrorism, or a threat to staff or community safety, suspicious activity should always be taken seriously. When the city of Woodland Hills was alerted of trespassing at their water storage tank, the utility promptly issued a boil order until they could confirm that their water was safe to drink. These actions prevented any potential harm due to contamination leaving community members safe and reassured that their utility was taking an active role in water security. Evaluating risk to malevolent acts will allow your system to initiate or upgrade preventive measures and develop an appropriate response plan to protect staff and the community.

To prevent malevolent acts, start by taking an assessment of your facility’s vulnerabilities. Consider entry points, security code accessibility, chemical tanks, storage tanks, vehicles, utility equipment, hazardous chemicals, and infrastructure within the distribution or collection system. Infrastructure essential to operations and limited in redundancy or identified to be at greater risk to malevolent acts may require more meticulous security measures. To assess physical security threats, check out the Security Vulnerability Self-Assessment Guide for Small Drinking water Systems.

The goal in a vulnerability assessment is to determine where prevention measures can be implemented and develop a response plan to suspicious activity.  According to the Minnesota Department of Health, many facilities increase security by locking entry points, using external lighting, posting warning signs, requesting law enforcement patrol, fencing in critical infrastructure, or installing motion sensors, alarm systems, and video cameras. Once all preventive measures have been taken, develop a response protocol for each potential threat. The Association of State Drinking Water Administrators has developed response guidelines for security violations. In each response scenario, utilities should plan for how they can maintain internal, interagency, and external communication.

Utilities should practice emergency response exercises regularly and keep track of necessary changes to response protocols. During these exercises reserve time to monitor which staff have access to key entry points at the utility. Successful security programs will also build and maintain a close relationship with local law enforcement. This relationship will allow utilities to respond swiftly and efficiently in coordination with law enforcement when suspicious activity does occur.

Remember that final goal of these measures is to prevent any interruption in services, damage to infrastructure, and safety threats to staff and the community. For more information on Malevolent Acts check out the EPA’s Baseline Information on Malevolent Acts for Community Water Systems.

Featured Video: Infusing Innovation into the DNA of Our Culture

Featured Video: Infusing Innovation into the DNA of Our Culture

There are many factors that drive the current utility model for wastewater operations. With traditional values in play, we have reached difficult economic and operational challenges. In order to address these challenges, we must adapt a new mindset and new utility model to push affordability for water customers, better equipment management, and increased compliancy.

Adapting a more innovative approach and mindset:
Our current utility practices suggest that our societal and business values coincide with "extraction, use, and waste disposal". This creates a motivation that is, at bare minimum, driven by public engagement, capital investment, and operations & maintenance. As a result our current water resources are being utilized inefficiently and ultimately running low. We must instead adapt a Resource Recovery business model for a circular economy. Focus must be shifted from regulatory compliance, utility impact, and traditional utility models to pivot toward ecological uplift, collective impact, and a transformative entrepreneurial business model. This new business model should include focus on resource recovery and watershed health as well as pump, plant, and pipe health.

The start of a new, innovative, and effective approach might be slow but can grow exponentially. Water organizations must start with efficiency and work their way to optimization, which will lead into investments for bigger ideas and new intellectual property such as smart meters, efficient pumps, proper monitoring equipment, better facilities, and so forth. Collective cooperation and corresponding mindsets will keep the industry on the same track with the addition of new water personnel and management turnover.

In this week’s featured video by the Water Research Foundation, Diane Taniguchi-Dennis, Deputy General Manager at Clean Water Services, presents a case study for how her organization is improving utility functionality through a culture of innovation.

How to Find Free Webinars on WaterOperator.org

How to Find Free Webinars on WaterOperator.org

Our staff at WaterOperator.org work hard to make sure operators can easily find all potential training opportunities for their water or wastewater operator certification using our national training calendar. This calendar currently links to over 11,000 events each year, all of which are pre-approved for operator continuing education credits and many which are free. Whether it’s a training hosted by your primacy agency, the Rural Community Assistance Partnership, a subsection of the American Water Works Association, or another local training provider, we strive to list them all.

Given the increased demand for virtual training opportunities, we’ve recently created a tutorial to help you optimize your search for live, online training. We hope that this video will help you to more easily meet the training requirements under your certification.

Please note, that these opportunities all have a time and date associated with their registration. We do not list on-demand training in our calendar. If you require assistance searching for pre-approved, on-demand training opportunities, please email us at info@wateroperator.org.

Featured Video: Sewer Dye Testing

Featured Video: Sewer Dye Testing

A municipal sanitary sewer system is designed to collect and transport wastewater from homes, offices, businesses, restaurants and other sources to a municipal wastewater treatment plant for treatment and safe discharge into the environment. If other sources of water are allowed to enter the sewer system, the collection system and wastewater treatment plant can become over loaded allowing untreated water to be discharged. This is defined as sanitary sewer overflows, or SSO’s. One of the biggest sources of excess water is infiltration of storm water and groundwater into the sanitary sewers. A method to detect this infiltration is through dye testing.

Dye testing is a simple procedure where storm drains, yard drains, and the outside of the foundation walls of the house, or other areas are flooded with water to simulate a period of heavy rainfall. The colored water is pumped through the ground and storm water system and appears in the sanitary sewer collection system where leaks occur. This test is simple and complements smoke testing that may have been done previously.

The dye testing procedure can be accomplished in the following steps.

  1. Isolating a section of the storm water network to test by plugging pipes at specific locations. 
  2. Then, bright-dyed water is pumped into the storm water network until it reaches capacity. 
  3. Remote CCTV cameras are deployed into the sanitary sewer system, where any points of storm water ingress are highlighted clearly by the dyed water.

Once the testing is completed, the locations of these sources of infiltration makes the process of repairing these leaks far more straightforward facilitating effective piping and system repairs which keep infiltration to a minimum.

A video showing how dye testing can be carried out is shown below:

Inspiring the Future of Women in Wastewater

Inspiring the Future of Women in Wastewater

Editor's Note: We would like to thank NYC Environmental Protection for permission to use this photo.

Despite such worthwhile career prospects, in 2018 women made up only 5.8%  of water and wastewater operators according to statistics by the U.S. Census Bureau. As the water workforce ages and experienced operators retire, the water and wastewater industry can benefit by recruiting more women into the field. Mutually so, inquisitive women with interests in protecting public health and sustaining our environment have much to receive from the opportunities available within the industry.

In the field of wastewater treatment specifically, professionals can exercise their curiosity in the sciences while building technical and mechanical skills. The wastewater operator career not only offers extensive opportunity for growth and advancement, but starting positions often pay well, sustain job security, and will provide on-the-job training. The duties of an operator are an essential public service that require knowledge of wastewater safety, math, chemistry, microbiology, treatment processes, and utility operations and maintenance. Those with a penchant for problem solving and mechanical skills will fare well in the field. Other skills women can develop as a wastewater operator involve communication, presentation, collaboration, and eventually, management.

In the Empowering Women Podcast, Christen Wood, wastewater operations administrator of Summit County Department Sanitary Sewer Services and three time participant of WEFTEC’s operations challenge (with two of her teams making it all the way to nationals), describes the “happy accidents” that allowed her to stumble upon the field. She explains why she continues to hold such passion for her position noting that work as a wastewater operator is a career path, not a job. Listen to Christen’s interview to get a better idea about the type of tasks involved in the day to day work of an operator and the significance of those tasks in public and environmental health.

Still not convinced? NYC Water offers an excellent summary of the benefits a wastewater career will offer to women interested in the field. If you get anything out of this video, we hope its that you start to consider how you can fit into the wastewater industry! Find more information about the experience of women in the water industry at the Words on Water Podcast’s Inspiring Women in Water podcast series. The same podcast produced a separate interview with Mel Butcher, an engineering consultant at Arcadis. Her interview discusses how challenges that women do face as minorities in the industry can be overcome through honest conversation. 

Workforce diversity leads to new ideas, innovation, and progress. Consider how you can bring your skills to wastewater treatment.