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WaterOperator.org Blog

Articles in support of small community water and wastewater operators.

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.

AWWA & RCAP Release AWIA Small Systems E-Training

AWWA & RCAP Release AWIA Small Systems E-Training

The America’s Water Infrastructure Act (AWIA) was signed into law in October 2018, requiring drinking water systems serving more than 3,300 people to develop or update risk and resilience assessments (RRA) and emergency response plans (ERP) within the deadlines determined by system size. With this Act, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) developed guidance documents to help systems comply with these new requirements. These resources include a qualitative RRA Checklist specifically designed for small systems as well as an ERP template. The purpose of these materials is to help systems achieve the minimum compliance under AWIA Section 2013.

To complement these small system resources, the American Water Works Association (AWWA) and Rural Community Assistance Partnership (RCAP) have partnered to build a free e-learning program with funding from the U.S. EPA. The on-demand training condenses ANSI/AWWA standards for security, risk management, and resilience as well as the AWWA’s Risk and Resilience Certification Program to help systems comply with AWIA. This new AWIA Small Systems Certificate Program contains four courses:

  • Introduction to Resiliency and America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2018 (EL272)
  • Operational Measures for Resiliency (EL273)
  • How to Develop a Risk and Resilience Assessment (EL274)
  • How to Develop a Small System Emergency Response Plan (EL275)
  • Bonus: Cybersecurity (Available late 2020)

Each course (See preview 1/2) features a series of video presentations with regular knowledge checks, a course evaluation, and a final assessment. The modules within the course (See preview 2 /2) are easy to follow and offer an excellent overview of AWIA knowledge requirements. At the end of the training, participants will receive a certificate of completion. CEU approval is available depending on your operator certification agency. See AWWA's credit policy.

The training also includes a separate AWWA/RCAP worksheet that can be used in the field to conduct an RRA. While housed under the AWWA’s resources for small systems, free registration is available to both members and non-members of the AWWA. To access the course participants are required to create or use a (free) AWWA account. We’ve highlighted the steps to create an account as well as how to access the courses. Any of the following screenshots can be enlarged by simply clicking on them to open the image in a new tab.

Creating a Free Account:

  1. At the top right-hand corner of the AWWA website is a link that says Login. Click this link to create a free account.
  2. Turn your attention toward the 'Create New Account' section of the new webpage. Read the Privacy Policy and select ‘I Agree – Create Account’.

    Screenshot of Login Page

  3. Enter your email address in the next page.
    Note: During this step the AWWA will check to see if you’ve already created an existing account with this email. If your account already exists and you’ve forgotten your password, you can perform a password reset.
  4. To continue creating a new account you will want to fill out each field to the best of your abilities. For the address type, you can select Home, Delivery, or Office/USmail.
    If you choose to use your utility address, keep the address type as office/USmail. Enter every field and select ‘Find Company’.
    1. If your utility is already in the database, select the utility name and then Continue.
    2. If your utility is not listed in the results, you will have to manually enter your address by selecting ‘None of the Above’ and Continue.
  5. More fields will appear after entering the address. Entering a phone number is optional, but you will have to choose a secure password. Be sure it is something you will remember or keep it written in a safe place.
  6. Check the agreement box to agree to the Consent Capture statement. This statement grants AWWA permission to collect and store your personal information to maintain your account. Your page should now look close to this:

    Completed Fields for Account Set Up Screenshot

  7. Select Next.
  8. Now your account is active! You can tell that you’re logged in because your name will appear at the very top, right-hand corner of any AWWA webpage.

Accessing the Courses:

  1. Information about the AWIA Small Systems Certificate e-training can be found at the Small Systems webpage. To find this page using the AWWA navigation bar, hover over ‘Professional Development’ and select ‘Small Systems’. Lots of great small system training and resources can be found here!

  2. From this page, scroll down to ‘Safe Drinking Water Act Compliance Training’ heading. Select the tab ‘AWIA Small Systems Certificate Program’. This tab includes the redemption code ‘SMSYS20’ that will be required in the following steps to provide account access to the courses.

    Screen Scot of the Certificate Program Tab

  3. Now make sure you’re logged into the AWWA site and select your name in the top, right-hand corner of the webpage. If your name does not appear in the top navigation then you are not logged in.
  4. A page called ‘My Account’ should be loaded. Now select ‘My Courses’ in the left-hand menu. This will bring you to the AWWA eLearning platform. You might want to bookmark this link for easy course access in the future!

    Screen Scot of the My Courses Link

  5. In this page under 'Small System Course Access', enter the code ‘SMSYS20’ and select Redeem.
  6. Now all free courses available to small systems will be placed in your enrollments. A temporary menu will pop up where you can look through these courses.
    If you close this menu you will be returned to the eLearning home page. By scrolling down you can find the same small system enrollments. These enrollments include the individual courses that make up each small system certificate program. Since this list is not sorted by certificate program, you’ll want to search for each course by the names listed at the beginning of this blog. Start with EL272 and work toward EL275.

Returning to the Course:

  1. Sign in to the AWWA site with your existing account by selecting ‘Login’ in the top, right-hand corner of any AWWA webpage. The username is your email.
  2. Once logged in, select your name in the top, right-hand corner of the page where it used to say Login.
  3. A webpage called ‘My Account’ should be loaded. Now select ‘My Courses’ in the left-hand menu. This will bring you to the AWWA eLearning platform. You might want to bookmark this link for quicker access next time.
  4. Scroll down on the e-learning homepage to access your courses.

We recommend systems check out both the EPA tools as well as the new e-training to decide what worksheets and strategies are best for your utility. Remember that RCAP’s technical assistance providers are available throughout the country to help you achieve AWIA compliance, work through these courses, and even facilitate tabletop exercises for emergency preparedness. For a deeper understanding of AWIA compliance and these small system resources, operators can view the June 10, 2020 webinar recording: Small Systems Guidance for America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2018.

Promoting Equality and Equity: Resources for the Water Industry

Promoting Equality and Equity: Resources for the Water Industry

Editor's Note: We want to thank NYC Environmental Protection for permission to use their photo in this post.

Our team at WaterOperator.org was pleased to see organizations such as the Rural Community Assistance Partnership (RCAP), Water Environment Federation (WEF), and the American Water Works Association (AWWA), make public statements in support of the racial justice movement. Our program is committed to promoting and upholding the principles of inclusion in everything we do.

Racial injustice affects all of us — at home, at work, and in our daily societal interactions. Times like these define who we are, shed light on our world view, and, most importantly, are an opportunity to affect change. We all play an important role in developing and maintaining equitable places to work and live. Here are just a few resources that might be helpful as your organization navigates this call to action:

A Water Utility Manager’s Guide to Community Stewardship
Highlighted by David LaFrance, CEO of the American Water Works Association, in his message to the water industry from a Water Online commentary, this manual features a chapter on human resources identifying how to promote welcoming cultures and increase diversity in the workplace.
Host: American Water Works Association

Could This Be What Employees Experience in Your Workplace?
On page 26 of the February 2018 edition of the APWA Reporter, author and operations manager for St. Paul Public Works Department, Beverly Ann Farraher, highlights how public works employee Antione Posey faced racial discrimination in the workplace. The objective of this article is to invigorate readers to consider how they can take positive action to support diversity and inclusivity.
Host: American Public Works Association

U.S. Businesses Must Take Meaningful Action Against Racism
Featured in a recent WEF Smart Brief, this article outlines ways that industry leaders can support minority employees to feel physically and psychologically safe in their workplace during such difficult times of racial injustice.
Host: Harvard Business Review

Water Equity Clearinghouse
This online database showcases organizations and the practices they implement to make water and wastewater service accessibility more equitable and inclusive.
Host: U.S. Water Alliance

Working Toward the Utility of the Future by Understanding and Addressing Bias
Presented at a 2016 conference hosted by the Pacific Northwest Section AWWA, these slides teach readers how the brain processes information to form subconscious biases.  Water industry professionals will learn how to negate these biases to produce and foster a more innovative and diverse workforce.
Host: Pacific Northwest Section American Water Works Association

Echoed by RCAP CEO Nathan Ohle in his statement on the death of George Floyd, there is more diversity found in rural and tribal communities than most people realize. This diversity is one of the many things that make them so extraordinary. We encourage all systems and the communities that they serve to examine how they can promote diversity and remove any barriers that hinder its livelihood both inside and outside of the workplace.  With that, we will leave you with a quote taken from a Workforce Diversity article by Rachel Gilbert included in the AWWA Journal: 

The concept of Diversity & Inclusion needs to be regarded as a value — not just a program or priority. Priorities change values don’t.”

A Message from Nathan Ohle, RCAP CEO

A Message from Nathan Ohle, RCAP CEO

Editor's Note: WaterOperator.org is proudly funded through a partnership with the Rural Community Assistance Partnership (RCAP). In this blog post we have highlighted a recent statement by RCAP CEO Nathan Ohle in response to the death of George Floyd and the protests that followed.

Throughout the past few weeks, we have witnessed yet another systemic injustice with the death of George Floyd and the protests that followed. Over four decades, the RCAP Network has always stood for the common good, including a fair and just society that fosters healthy conversations, true collaboration and equitable partnerships. We strive to celebrate and lift the incredibly diverse make up of rural and tribal communities that we see every day through our work.

We do not have all the answers to address the inequity taking place across the country, or yet know what role the RCAP Network can play in this conversation. However, it is clear that we need to create a space for those conversations to take shape, and to elevate the voices of the rural communities that are working collaboratively with people from all walks of life. We work on regionalization and regional collaboration projects across the country, helping to facilitate tough conversations and bridge differences between and among communities. Those tough conversations are critical to ensuring that we create equitable opportunity for all communities.

What we see happening today in America is not just happening in big cities, it lives in communities of all sizes. Everyone wants to feel safe, secure, and valued, but too many people in this country do not.

Rural communities are much more diverse than most people realize. It is the diversity that exists in rural communities that makes them so special. Ensuring that everyone has affordable access to safe drinking water and sanitary wastewater disposal was the founding principal of RCAP, with a specific focus on the most vulnerable populations across the country. As we consider where we can play a role, we are always here to listen, learn and to support important conversations in whatever form they should take. RCAP will continue to focus on creating and lifting up positive stories, encouraging continued collaboration, providing venues for fruitful conversations, and ensuring that rural communities of color have an equitable opportunity.

The Lytton Tribe Manages Government to Government Wastewater Agreements

The Lytton Tribe Manages Government to Government Wastewater Agreements

Editor's Note: This article was originally published in the June 2020 edition of our Tribal Utility Newsletter. You can subscribe to this newsletter or find past editions here.

In 1961 federal recognition of the Lytton Band of Pomo Indians was unlawfully terminated. While this recognition was restored in 1991, the Tribe was only granted federal recognition of a reservation in December of last year. During this time the Lytton Tribe built its success by establishing a San Pablo casino. Funds from the casino were used to purchase 500 acres of land near Windsor, California. Since then the Tribe has been working with Sonoma County to develop 147 housing units as well as a resort and winery.

Now that this ongoing development can be performed on land officially held in trust by the U.S. federal government, the Tribe is no longer subject to local land use restrictions. As such, the Lytton Tribe must assess all potential options to best meet future wastewater needs. Collaboration with their Windsor neighbors as well as an environmental assessment identified two primary options:

  • Onsite construction of a private wastewater treatment facility with management overseen by a private firm.
  • Joining the Windsor wastewater treatment plant to meet residential needs with construction of a smaller treatment plant for commercial wastewater.

Construction of a separate wastewater facility drew concerns for the town of Windsor. Effluent discharge would flow into gravel pits near the town's well field and a local watershed. Windsor residents were also concerned about potential treatment odors. If the Tribe connected to the existing treatment plant, they would benefit from the plant's existing efficiencies and reuse opportunities while leaving land available for future Tribal housing.

After accessing the capacity of the Windsor plant, the Tribe and town agreed to connect to the existing facility for a $20 million connection fee. Approximately $3.5 million of this will go toward aeration basin improvements to increase capacity for the Tribe's future development projects. Costs to connect services will be funded by the Tribe. Agreements such of these can often be tedious, however the town and the Lytton Tribe are working well to overcome disagreements, maintain transparency, and find a solution that mutually benefits both parties. The next steps in this project involve drafting a Joint Exercise of Powers Agreement over the wastewater services.

Through this work, the Lytton Tribe demonstrates how to traverse the formation of complex government to government agreements.To assist tribes with future water or wastewater system agreements and partnerships take advantage of the U.S. EPA's Water System Partnerships Handbook, the Rural Community Assistance Partnership's Resiliency Through Water and Wastewater System Partnerships, and the Water Research Foundation's Water Utility Partnerships Resource Guide and Toolbox.