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WaterOperator.org Blog

Articles in support of small community water and wastewater operators.

Spooky Sewers and Things That Go Bump at the Treatment Plant: 2018 Edition

Spooky Sewers and Things That Go Bump at the Treatment Plant: 2018 Edition
An October chill is in the air, and darkness is falling earlier and earlier. It must be time to share our annual bone-chilling list of some of the wierdest, wackiest and downright most frightening water operator stories we came across this year (check out last year's list here)!
 

First, can you imagine what it would be like to get sucked through a sewer for over a mile? Well, it happened to this man when his safety harness came undone back in 2010. And although he survives, the crappy experience is surely something he will never forget. 

While we are talking collections O&M, here's a video describing one characteristic of a successful wastewater operator: a strong stomach. Another characteristic? Knowing not to "fling this on your partner".  And believe me, you don't want to know what "this" is!

Sometimes, though, what flows into a sewer simply doesn't come out, no matter how much you work on it. That is when you call in the professionals: sewer divers.

This is exactly what the water system in Charleston, SC did when they could not clear an obstruction earlier this month. They sent specialized sewer divers 80-90 feet deep into raw sewage in complete darkness to search for the obstruction with their hands..

What did they find? You guessed it: a large mass of "flushable" wipes. Lucky for us, the water system documented the whole episode on social media, but respectfully shot the pictures in low-res for our benefit.

If you want to dive deeper into the topic of sewer exploration, we double dare you to watch this video about a man who swims through Mexico City's wastewater system on a regular basis to keep it working. 

Other types of obstructions have to be dealt with in other ways. This past summer, utility workers spotted an alligator swimming in the Mineral Springs, PA wastewater treatment plant. A private contractor hired by the state Fish and Boat Commission had to use dead animals as bait to try and snag the gator with a fishing hook. 

You have to admit, wastewater often gets a bad wrap. To prove this, just ask any operator from Baltimore's wastewater treatment plant what happened there back in 2009. That was the year they had to call in experts to deal with a 4-acre spider web that had coated the plant. According to a scientific paper that appeared in American Entomologist, the “silk lay piled on the floor in rope-like clumps as thick as a fire hose” where plant employees had swept aside the webbing to access equipment. Scientists estimate the megaweb contained about 107 million spiders

Finally, it wouldn't be Halloween without ghosts, or ghost water, to be more precise. What is ghost water you ask? Well, pervasive leaks and long repair delays are causing water to disappear in Kansas City, Missouri (a kind of haunting experienced by water systems all across the country it seems). According to this 2017 article, nobody knows exactly where the water is going, but the water department points to faulty meters, theft, aging pipes and abandoned houses. Spooky!


Featured Videos: Small Communities Benefit From Shared Resources

Featured Videos: Small Communities Benefit From Shared Resources

The Small Communities Environmental Infrastructure Group assists small Ohio communities in finding resources to help solve their infrastructure and funding problems. These two videos feature water and sewer district officials and staff discussing the benefits of participating in SCEIG regional partnerships in order to better serve their communities. 

Featured Videos: Solids and Sludge Handling

Featured Videos: Solids and Sludge Handling

How are solids handled and sludge thickened in the wastewater process? Watch this RCAP video to find out how one wastewater plant uses a dissolved air flotation thickener to settle sludge out before the digestion process and then uses a centrifuges for de-watering.  

Need to simplify the process? Check out how this small wastewater plant in Ohio reduces the free water content of its sludge - all for under $300 out of pocket cost. 


Looking for more videos on the wastewater treatment process? RCAP offers a free 7-part video series to explain the technical steps in the process of treating wastewater. 

Featured Video: Using Decommissioned Wastewater Tanks for Fish Farming

Featured Video: Using Decommissioned Wastewater Tanks for Fish Farming

Just when you think you've seen it all, someone comes up with a crazy idea that holds some promise. This just might be true in the case of a local aquaculture businessman, who, along with a Kentucky State University researcher, looked at outdated wastewater treatment plants and source water reservoirs and envisioned profitable fish farms! 

This week's featured video explains how Steve Mims and Tim Parrott used a USDA grant a few years ago to turn decommissioned wastewater plants into working aquaculture farms using treated effluent in digester tanks and daphnia (as fish food) from upgraded facilities that are often just next door. The tanks don't generate waste because the water cycles right back to the treatment plant.  

His big idea? To establish regional fish hatcheries through public-private partnerships, with young fingerlings sold to local farmers to raise in their own ponds all the while adding commercial-level fish and caviar production to the rural economies of Kentucky. So add fish farming to all the creative ways to recycle wastewater that people have been coming up with recently!  

Featured Videos: Onsite Wastewater Systems

According to the US Census Bureau, one in four homes in the U.S. is served by an onsite wastewater system. Our first featured video this week explores some of these onsite options and then explains in simple terms how each of these systems work in different soil conditions and what it takes to maintain them. In the end, the video shows how the cost-effectiveness of septic systems can often more than outweigh the cost of a centralized system for many smaller communities. 


Wondering how to find the funding to get these types of decentralized systems off the ground? Our second video this week explores how innovative partnerships and Clean Water State Revolving Funds can be used for exactly these kinds of projects.


Do you want to find out more about onsite wastewater options and how to pay for them? Head over to our 
resource library and pick "decentralized ww systems" as a category! 

Featured Video: Wastewater Treatment Series

Featured Video: Wastewater Treatment Series
If you've worked in administration at a wastewater utility, you probably know the whole process is a lot more complicated than some might think. Even the process of getting the waste from the houses in the community to the treatment center requires vigilance. And then the steps of the treatment process start to pile up. Preliminary, primary, secondary, and then there's sludge and effluent and different ways of handling those. Whether you're the mayor, on the board of directors, answering phones in the office, or cutting the checks, you've probably had to deal with different stage of this process over the course of your job.

If that's the case, here's a chance to brush up on the details of wastewater treatment without getting overwhelmed by technical language. In this week's video series, knowledgeable staffers from the Rural Community Assistance Partnership (RCAP) explain the technical steps of wastewater in layman's terms. These videos are intended to help leaders, board members, and other administrative staff understand what's going on in the operation of their utility. This understanding can help you understand how to make wise operational, maintenance, and expansion decisions that take the realities of utility operation into account. The introduction video is embedded below; each of the following videos can be viewed by clicking on the titles below.

Wastewater Treatment - Introduction from RCAP on Vimeo.

  1. Wastewater Treatment - Collection System
  2. Wastewater Treatment - Preliminary Treatment
  3. Wastewater Treatment - Primary Treatment
  4. Wastewater Treatment - Secondary Treatment
  5. Wastewater Treatment - Solids and Sludge Handling
  6. Wastewater Treatment - Effluent Disinfection
  7. Wastewater Treatment - Effluent Disposal

For more on wastewater treatment for non-operators, see RCAP's A Drop of Knowledge handbook for wastewater systems. (There's one for drinking water systems too!)

Top 2017 Resources from WaterOperator.org's Bi-Weekly Newsletter

Top 2017 Resources from WaterOperator.org's Bi-Weekly Newsletter

2017 was a great year for the WaterOperator.org newsletter team. We not only reached our 200th edition milestone this past fall, but we also were successful in connecting a significant number of water professionals with useful and relevant resources, resources that could be used on-the-spot to solve pressing issues, or help guide utility best practices, or help water decision-makers plan ahead for their communities. 

While many of the events, articles and resources featured in our newsletters garnered interest, here is a list of our most clicked-on resources of 2017.

Did you use one these resources at your utility this year? If so, we'd love to hear from you! Do you have a favorite "go-to" resource to share? Again, we'd love to know! Our email is info@wateropertor.org , or connect with us on Facebook or Twitter

Featured Video: Energy Efficiency at Wastewater Treatment Facilities

Featured Video: Energy Efficiency at Wastewater Treatment Facilities
As winter gets underway, many of communities are thinking about energy costs and energy savings. Utilities will recognize these concerns as well. Did you know 30-40% of a municipality's energy budget is spent on the treatment of drinking water and wastewater? Chances are someone at your utility has been made aware. With energy costs rising everywhere, it doesn't hurt to save money where you can and perform an energy audit at your utility.

This 7-and-a-half minute video from the Rural Community Assistance Partnership (RCAP) doesn't go into the details of a full energy audit. But it does outline several areas where energy audits often find opportunities for savings. It can be a great way to introduce water boards, mayors, and other decision-makers to the benefits of energy audits. And even without being a full audit, it might give you some good ideas for your utility. Though the video highlights wastewater treatment facilities, most of the tips could be easily applied to drinking water utilities as well.

Energy Efficiency at Wastewater Treatment Facilities from RCAP on Vimeo.

If you're interested in getting an energy audit for your utility, RCAP staff are able to carry out energy audits for both water and wastewater utilities. To find the RCAP partner that serves your region, check their website.

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 an 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.