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Articles in support of small community water and wastewater operators.

Featured Video: Serious Play

Featured Video: Serious Play
If you have kids, you might be very familiar with the shapes and structures that can be built out of Lego blocks. Even if you don't have kids, you might be about to get a healthy dose of kids' building supplies over the holidays, as parents try to keep their kids out from underfoot. But did you know those building supplies could be used to explain complex concepts to your customers?

In this video, a conservation nonprofit demonstrates how they used colored building blocks to explain possible remediation strategies for polluted sediment in the Lower Duwamish Waterway in Seattle. Even if you're not facing this specific situation, look for ideas on how simple toys like these can be used to explain complex concepts to your board, city council, or customers. After all, everyone loves to play, don't they?



For more on communicating complex concepts to people without expertise, check out our past blog entry on Communicating Science. And if you've found a particularly effective strategy for communicating difficult water utility concepts to your board or community members, let us know!

Featured Videos: Small On-Site Wastewater Treatment Systems

Featured Videos: Small On-Site Wastewater Treatment Systems

Sometimes wastewater treatment doesn't involve clarifiers or even treatment buildings big enough to walk around inside. Approximately 25 percent of homes in the United States are not connected to centralized sewer systems. These homes and businesses collect and treat their wastewater on their own property using systems that are referred to as onsite wastewater treatment systems, septic systems, or decentralized systems.

In some rural and suburban areas, everyone uses decentralized systems. Even in communities with sewers and a centralized treatment facility, there are often areas the sewer does not reach and where homes or businesses are on septic systems. If a community wants to manage all of its wastewater, it is necessary to address both centralized and decentralized systems.

This video is for small, rural communities that are looking for wastewater treatment options. You'll hear about the benefits of onsite systems and get a "tour" of one community's system.

Small On-Site Wastewater Treatment Systems from RCAP on Vimeo.

Small, on-site treatment systems are an innovative way to treat water. They come in a variety of types and are often found in housing subdivisions, schools and small commercial centers. They have advantages for a variety of situations, especially for locations that are distant from or isolated from centralized sewer systems.

For more on operating decentralized wastewater systems, visit our documents database and search by the category Decentralized WW Systems and document type Manuals/Handbooks.

What's That Smell? Eliminating Wastewater Treatment Odors

What's That Smell? Eliminating Wastewater Treatment Odors

With all this talk about public awareness of hidden water system infrastructure, it is important to point out that there are times when public awareness is definitely NOT on your side. And one of those times is when there is a stink that just doesn't go away.

Odors are generated from every phase of wastewater management including collection, treatment, and disposal, and they can cause all sorts of public relations issues, putting pressure on a utility to resolve the problem in a timely way. Certainly, managing odors is one of the most important - and yet most challenging - aspects of wastewater treatment. 

Why so challenging? Because in part there are many odor control technologies available but no single ideal solution. Some systems, like this Brownsville Public Utilities Board plant in Texas, solve odor problems by placing covers over wastewater tanks and channels and then blowing the smelly hydrogen sulfide gas through a biological tower. Others such as this Bridgeport, CN Water Pollution Control Authority plant, capture odorous offgas with coated fabric covers and treat it with a carbon system. Still others use a combination of  different measures, such as activated sludge diffusion, carbon adsorber sytems, pump station chemical feed systems, coverings and plant operation modifications. 

But fixes like these don't come easily, or cheaply. And sometimes, the problem is even more complex. Consider this story of a system in Saline, MI that has been the subject of neighbor complaints for years. Even after odor studies and abatement work, the smell just keeps getting worse. 

How can a smaller system then, with its limited funding and manpower, address odor problems effectively? The cheapest way to control odors is at their source, according to this Science Daily article, but sometimes that is simply not possible. Fortunately, researchers from the University of British Columbia may have recently developed a solution

Many wastewater facilities use anaerobic digestion, but is is expensive to acquire and maintain the associated odor control and biogas safety equipment needed. A much more cost-effective way to mitigate odors, these UBC researchers have discovered, is to revisit metal salts treatment. Simply adding new combinations of these common commercial metal salts during the fermentation process dramatically improves offensive odors, and also improves their ability for remove water from digested sludge. It is these unique doses/formulas and point of addition during the fermentation process that really amplifies the effectiveness of this new approach. Moreover, the cost of adopting their technique is minimal, so smaller systems can afford to test it out. 

In the meantime, if you need a quick primer on odor generation and management, the Water Environment Federation (WEF) has a 7-page factsheet explaining the problem and outlining advantages and disadvantages of various mitigation strategies. 

You can also keep an eye out for odor events right here on WaterOperator.org. For example, this Iowa training later in the month troubleshoots lagoon odor issues. Just type "odor" in the keyword search box on the event calendar page

Want to brainstorm with other wastewater professionals? Attend WEF's Odors and Air Pollutants Conference 2018 in Portland, Oregon in March, 2018. With sessions ranging from "Optimizing Hydrogen Peroxide Dosing" to "Odor Control Scrubber System Planning and Design," there will be many opportunities to learn in-depth solutions to any smelly situation. 

Featured Video: Nitrogen Removal in Wastewater Treatment

Featured Video: Nitrogen Removal in Wastewater Treatment
Need to brush up on nitrification and denitrification? Wondering how they fit in to the wastewater treatment process? Looking for some troubleshooting tips for common wastewater nitrogen operations issues? Then this week's featured video is for you!


This 12-minute video discusses the nitrogen cycle, sources of nitrogen in wastewater, types of nitrogen in wastewater, the processes involved in removing nitrogen from wastewater, and troubleshooting tips for issues such as rising ammonia levels and floating pieces of sludge in the clarifier, among other issues.


Nitrogen Removal in Wastewater Treatment from Steven Myers on Vimeo.

The Nutrient Control category in our document database covers nutrient control and removal topics for both nitrogen and phosphorus. You can type "nitrogen" or "phosphorus" (without the quote marks) into the keyword search field to narrow by nutrient. The nitrogen results are particularly interesting in the Factsheets/Case Studies and Slides/Presentations document types.

Featured Videos: Preparing Your System for Disasters & Emergencies

Featured Videos: Preparing Your System for Disasters & Emergencies
Boo! Halloween may be the season for spooky ghosts and spine-tingling stories, but water utility professionals have their own scary stories. A lot of them involve being knee-deep in mud at 2 AM, and most of them end (or begin) with boil orders. This week's video discusses various emergency and water security challenges that could face a utility, and offers practical suggestions to prevent or mitigate them. Your next B-movie night might not feature burst methane or chlorine tanks or vandalism by local teenagers---but maybe it could! This video is one step toward making sure your story has a happy ending. (Though the video is aimed at wastewater utilities, much of it will be relevant to drinking water utilities as well.)

Preparing Your Wastewater System for Disasters and Emergencies from RCAP on Vimeo.

For more on community water resiliency, see the USEPA's CBWR tool that we highlighted earlier this month. For more information on water security specifically, see the USEPA's Water Security Handbook.

It's Alive! Spooky Sewer Creatures and Things That Go Bump at the Treatment Plant

It's Alive! Spooky Sewer Creatures and Things That Go Bump at the Treatment Plant

Every water system has its stories  whether a particularly forceful water main break or sewage overflow, an unwelcome water tower visitor, or a “worse day ever” inside the treatment plant.

This Halloween season, we thought we would share some of the spookiest water operator videos and news stories we have come across, all with one thing in common: they really happened! (Because we all know that truth is scarier than fiction.)

Let’s start with a quick video and resource about a rare, but certainly not unprecedented, hazard. Hopefully, you will never encounter this slow-moving fleshy blob in your wastewater treatment plant or collection system, but just in case you do, you can thank this blog for warning you!  

No, it isn't an alien from another planet. This nightmare blockage is nothing but a nest of tubifex worms. Along with red worms, blood worms and midge flies, these worms are a normal and occasional nuisance to waterwaster operators, as they can clog filters and eat good bacteria. Although it isn't easy to get rid of them, this website offers hope. 

Speaking of blobs, earlier this year a water utility worker fell off a water main and found himself stuck in a blobby, muddy trench. The more he moved, the more stuck he got. Luckily for him, his nightmare didn't last long  fellow workers quickly came to the rescue, using their knowledge of trenching and excavation safety principles.

One thing is for sure: strange encounters are never far away when you work in the water business. In fact, sometimes spooky creatures are as close as the microscope slides in your lab.

Wastewater plants in particular house microbiological zoos of the strangest kind. But don't worry about what you can't see, because these creepy-crawly microorganisms are really the good guys at treatment plants. The predatory suctoria, for example, uses its spines to suck out the nutrient-rich cytoplasm of organisms it has speared, aiding in breaking down and removing nutrients and organic matter. Or the mysterious Tardigrade (aka water bear) seen below in this video whose appearance usually indicates good BOD degradation. Water bears can survive in outer space, extreme radioactive environments and high temperatures, making them one of the "toughest animals on earth".

In addition to strange creatures, strange happenings can also be part of the day-to-day life of a water operator. This Wessler Engineering blog post entitled "Is Your Wastewater Treatment Plant Haunted? describes an acoustic phenomenon known as "water hammer" that can occur inside the walls of a home as pipe fluids suddenly stop or change direction. This same thing can occur at the treatment plant when automated solenoid valves abruptly open or close, causing a sudden loud boom or knocking. It would be enough to make any night-shift operator jump! 

Finally, we leave you with a story that is sure to give you the shivers. Recent hurricane flooding in Houston has jarred many manhole covers out of place (more than 65, in fact), and somehow a man fell into a pit that feeds underground sewer lines carrying residential wastewater. After over a week underground, the man was finally discovered by utility workers who were nearby making repairs and heard a disembodied voice crying, "I am here, I am here!". After tossing the man snacks from their lunches, rescuers were able to haul the man to the surface. Thankfully this story has a happy ending, but be sure to watch where you are walking this Halloween. 

The Unique Challenges of Wildfires for Water Systems

The Unique Challenges of Wildfires for Water Systems

Recent wildfires in California’s Sonoma and Napa Counties have caused loss of life and significant damage not only to over 5,700 homes and businesses, but also to critical water infrastructure in the region.

In Santa Rosa, residents have been instructed to use only bottled or boiled water for drinking and cooking. According to the city's water engineer, the system is currently experiencing unusually low water pressure, due either to high volumes being used by firefighters or damage to infrastructure. She explains that when water pressure drops below a certain level, backflow prevention devices – particularly in the higher elevations of the system – many not work properly.

Loss of pressure is only one of the many unique and harmful effects wildfire can have on water systems. This 2013 Water Research Foundation report on the effects of wildfire on drinking utilities lists many more, especially the dramatic physical and chemical effects on soils, source water streams and water quality that would necessitate changes to treatment operations and infrastructure. In fact, according to the US EPA, long-lasting post-fire impacts (especially flooding, erosion and sedimentation) can be more detrimental to water systems than the fire itself. 

The WRF report also suggests mitigation and preparedness strategies for utilities, including using fire behavior simulators to identify areas to target for fuel reduction activities, such as this goat grazing program in California. The idea behind such collaborative programs is that the less vegetation fuel available for fires to consume, the better. 

The increase in wildfire incidents such as these across the country make it all the more important for water systems of all sizes to be prepared for the unique challenges of wildfires. A good way to start your preparation is by checking out WaterOperator.org’s listing of free wildfire resources by typing in the word “wildfire” in the search box.

No time to lose? The US EPA has a page of "rip & run" resources including this Wildfire Incident Action Checklist.

Featured Videos: Clarifier Basics & State Point Analysis

Featured Videos: Clarifier Basics & State Point Analysis
You know what a wastewater clarifier does in a general sense---solids go in the bottom, cleaner water comes out the top---but how do you handle the nitty gritty of day-to-day clarifier operation? How do you understand what's happening? How do you troubleshoot?

This week's video offers some answers. It begins with a very brief refresher on the basics and then goes on to dive in to state point analysis and troubleshooting scenarios. It's just under 15 minutes and includes clear diagrams and visuals to help guide you through the concepts.  And if you click through to YouTube, there's a link to the spreadsheet used in the second half.




For more on clarifier operations and troubleshooting, visit our document database, type "clarifiers" (without the quote marks) into the keyword search field, and search document type Slides/Presentations.

Hurricanes, Flooding and Wastewater Plants: What Have We Learned?

Hurricanes, Flooding and Wastewater Plants: What Have We Learned?

In recent months, there have been dozens of reports of wastewater treatment plants that have flooded due to heavy hurricane rains and storm surges in Florida, Texas, Puerto Rico and beyond. Both the sheer number of plants affected, and the extent and duration of the flooding have posed significant public health and technical challenges, often stretching communities to their limits

To add to these problems, many rural utilities were already struggling to keep their systems operating before the storms struck, so costly, complicated repairs or replacements of damaged infrastructure is simply not an option. For example, Patton Village, Texas had just completed a new wastewater plant  the first of its kind in their community — before Hurricane Harvey struck. Now they can only hope that USDA/FEMA emergency funding will be available to help repair the damage. And even once the systems are up and running again, it is not a given that water systems can count on water rate income to help with their O&M bills - many residents have fled their flood-damaged homes for good.  

The sad truth is that lately, floods have been affecting wastewater plants with unfortunate regularity, and not just in hurricane-prone areas. For example, in Central Illinois, the small town of Hutsonville's wastewater treatment plant has flooded 3 times in the last 2 years, up from once every 5 years, according to its contract operator Shannon Woodward of Connor & Connor, Inc.

Woodward's first piece of advice is not to build on a floodplain, but he also acknowledges that many communities do not have the capital funds for effective protective measures or relocation, and so operators must deal with the hand they are given. His second piece of advice: "Make sure all electrical controls, switch gears and transformers are above the flood stage. That way, when the flood waters subside, you don't have equipment loss and can get back into operation — even if it takes 3 to 6 weeks for the waters to recede." 

Mason City, another small town in Illinois, was able to fund improvements after a flood in 2008 cut off the town’s water supply and nearly overflowed the capacity of its wastewater system. The following year, the city built a stone wall around the water plant, installed flood sensors on the local river, and built effluent pumping stations for the wastewater plant. 

And this article tells the damage and recovery stories of two flooded wastewater plants in Rhode Island. According to the operators of these plants, it is essential to have a flood plan, even if you think your facility is protected. In addition, they maintain it is important to involve wastewater treatment personnel in emergency response exercises or in the incident command structure. On a practical level, the operators encourage SCADA systems to be elevated on the second floor in the operations building if possible. And lastly, they recommend you back up your files and documents electronically. Papers get wet, they say: move them to a dry storage facility. 

Finally, while every community has different characteristics and needs, there are some universal preparedness strategies for wastewater plants. The US EPA recommends practicing mitigation options as the best way to prevent floodwater from invasively appearing. Some of these options include crafting barriers around key assets, having an emergency back-up generator, and keeping key electrical equipment elevated. You can learn more about these options here, or you can watch this helpful video. In addition, many states have their own guidances, such as this one from Minnesota’s Pollution Control Agency.

Featured Video: Radionuclide Removal

Featured Video: Radionuclide Removal
Radionuclides are radioactive particles. They can be manmade or natural, existing in water, earth, and even living creatures. When they're consumed in drinking water, they can cause cancer or kidney problems. The USEPA has established drinking water standards to make sure radionuclides stay below dangerous levels in drinking water. If you're in an area with high levels of naturally occurring radionuclides, you are probably already aware of the issue and working to address it. But seeing how other small utilities are dealing with the same issue can still be useful.

In this week's video, the chief operator of the drinking water plant for Medicine Bow, Wyoming discusses the radionuclide treatment for his community, using a combination of ion exchange and blending. You might need to crank up the sound to catch everything, but it's still a great look at one small community's approach to this drinking water standard.



For more on the Radionuclides Rule, see the USEPA's Rule and Compliance pages, and this small system compliance guide in particular. You'll also find materials in our document database under the category Radionuclides.

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