Category Archives: News & Events

Goodbye, Marty Frizzell

Marty Frizzell, of Island Pond, passed away on April 1, 2021.  GMWEA members and friends will miss him deeply.

Many knew Marty for his work as the chief operator of Brighton’s water and wastewater treatment facility.  As friends and family recall, it was not uncommon to see Marty around town, chasing down a pump station alarm, or stopping to talk with a local resident to help them in any way he could.  He was proud of his work and he cared deeply for his community.  

He is survived by his wife, Sandy; daughter, Brittany;  son, Fraser; three grandchildren; and an extended family.

Marty was the chairman of the Island Pond Selectboard, a Brighton Elementary school board member, an active member of the Brighton Post 80 American Legion, a proud volunteer at the Brighton VFW, a member of the Christ Episcopal Church, and even a little league baseball coach. But of all his attributes and achievements, what stands out as his legacy is simply his genuine kindness for others.

Due to COVID, a funeral and celebration of Marty’s life are planned for a later date. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to The Mary Wright Halo Foundation, 1073 Upper Quarry Road, Newport, VT 05855 or the American Cancer Society, 55 Day Lane, Williston, VT 05495. On-line condolences may be made at curtis-britch.com. 

Lunch & Learn!

GMWEA is pleased to announce the launch of a new continuing education initiative that’s geared to people on the job. We call it Lunch and Learn because the sessions start at 12 noon and end within the hour.  They’re presented online, so you can attend from anywhere, and they’re affordable – only $15 for GMWEA members!

Please join us on Tuesday, April 13, for Laboratory Procedures, by Eileen Toomey and Rod Lamothe of Endyne Labs (right). The virtual training will feature hands-on demonstrations of lab procedures as well as lecture, slides, and Q&A.

Credits: 1 Water TCH, 1 Wastewater TCH

Content: This session will cover some of the basic techniques used in the analytical laboratory, including procedures for using common lab tools such as balances, glassware, reagents, and essential instrumentation. We will review various analytical methods that relate to the typical water or wastewater laboratory such as BOD, TSS, turbidity, and others; finally, we will review the quality control requirements and personal protection in the laboratory. There will be a brief Q & A at the end of the presentation. 

Cost: $15 for GMWEA members, $60 for nonmembers.  (If you haven’t renewed or signed up yet, your registration fee will include 2021 membership dues!)

To register: For online registration and credit card payment, CLICK HERE. Or, contact Daniel Hecht at dan.hecht@gmwea.org for registration materials.

Lunch and Learn will be presented every second Tuesday of the month except May, when we’ll present our annual Spring Conference, and October, when we’ll hold the Fall Tradeshow.  Visit www.gmwea.org for updates on future Lunch and Learn session topics!

PS: Speaking of Spring Conference: It’s on! Mark your calendar and please plan to attend this virtual event on May 20 and 21, for five hours of trainings, our annual Service Excellence Awards presentations, a keynote speech by Jeff Wennberg, and, tentatively, a special address by Sen. Bernie Sanders! Check www.gmwea.org for more information.

GMWEA Awards Season Begins!

It’s time to nominate your colleagues for GMWEA’s annual water quality Service Excellence Awards. We’re looking for individuals, facilities, and companies who demonstrated exceptional expertise and commitment in the water quality field in 2020 – let’s give credit where credit is due!

In the spirit of the moment, we’ve been playing with images of “awards.”  No, our awards don’t look like the ones in this post, but . . . hey, one day, who knows? 

GMWEA’s awards actually come as handsome, walnut-backed, engraved plaques.  We also put out press releases statewide and – when pandemics allow – put on some pomp and ceremony at our annual Spring Conference at Killington.  This year, due to COVID-19, they’ll be hand-delivered.  

In any case, winning one of GMWEA’s ten awards probably does not hurt the winners’ careers or their sense of, “Yeah, I did do the thing as best I could – thanks!” So — nominate!

Who did the job with exceptional know-how and devotion in 2020?  Who provided a role model others should take note of?  Who paid some hard dues in 2020 and stood up to it?  Please take a moment to visit our website’s awards page, read about the awards, and make a nomination using the online form, e-mail, or hard-copy via U.S. mail! 

The deadline to nominate is April 9, 2021.  You must be a GMWEA member to nominate, and only GMWEA members are eligible to win.  (If you haven’t yet renewed or signed up for 2021, please do!  You can renew/enroll and pay online — $45 for the year — at www.gmwea.org or by U.S. mail.)

The award categories are below.  It’s a great way to honor a colleague or worthy company/organization, and to let the world know about the good work water quality professionals do 24/7/365!

Michael J. Garofano Water Operator of the Year Award for outstanding performance in system maintenance, protecting public health, and achievement beyond normal responsibilities. 

Operator Excellence – Wastewater for outstanding performance in system maintenance, protecting public health, and achievement beyond normal responsibilities.

Facility Excellence – Water for outstanding facilities exceeding system operation requirements. Recognition is for the entire facility and staff.

Facility Excellence – Wastewater for outstanding facilities exceeding system operation requirements. Recognition is for the entire facility and staff.

Andrew D. Fish Laboratory Excellence for outstanding activity in laboratory performance at work, community service, education, committee participation, or other outstanding contribution.

Outstanding Industrial  – Operator for a significant accomplishment in operation, problem solving, crisis management, training, or understanding of industrial wastewater issues.

Outstanding Industrial – Facility for demonstrated commitment to clean water and pollution prevention, including implementation of water or wastewater treatment changes to address problems common to similar industries.

Bob Wood Young Professionals Award for achievements of a young professional operator, engineer, or student who has achieved notable contributions to the water environment, water, wastewater, or stormwater operations, and/or to GMWEA. (Must be 30 or under).

Stormwater Award  for outstanding performance in stormwater management and/or education and significant contribution to the stormwater field. Recognition is for an individual, company, or facility.

Elizabeth Walker Meritorious Service Award for outstanding contributions to the water quality field and/or to GMWEA.

To nominate, visit the awards page on our website: CLICK HERE.

GMWEA Donates Food in Honor of Water Quality Workers

It’s a classic tale of dark clouds having silver linings.  In the end, water quality workers received due honors, and a lot of hungry people in Chittenden County got fed.

The saga begins back in May of 2020, when GMWEA cancelled our annual Spring Meeting/Training Conference due to COVID-19.  It was bad enough that operators needing TCHs couldn’t attend the trainings usually presented, but another important annual ritual also fell by the wayside: our annual Service Excellence Awards ceremony. 

Above: DoubleTree Hotel staff with GMWEA board members, picking up the food

True, we put out press releases to let Vermonters know about the winners’ good work, and the award plaques did get delivered, one by one.  But foregoing the customary ceremony – eminently due the devoted professionals who won awards – didn’t sit well with GMWEA’s board and staff.

In chapter two, the dark clouds continued to thicken as the pandemic deepened. GMWEA had to cancel everything – including our Fall Tradeshow, the largest water quality conference and tradeshow in Vermont, scheduled for November.  More operators went without trainings, and the 95 water quality companies that usually exhibit were left without a venue in which to show off their goods and services.

In chapter three, things started to look up as the water quality community fought back against the dread enemy.  GMWEA began to present trainings again – online — including our day-long Stormwater Manual training, the eight-week Basic Wastewater Operations class, and a November 5 mini-conference of three, hour-long sessions.

Cancelling the Fall Tradeshow really hurt, and it could have meant the forfeiture of GMWEA’s venue deposit at the DoubleTree Hotel in Burlington.  But thanks to the DoubleTree staff’s flexibility and community-mindedness, and some creative thinking by GMWEA board members and staffer Lisa Goodell, we came up with a plan to salvage some benefit from this state of affairs.

Above: GMWEA board members Chris Robinson, Tom DiPietro, and Wayne Elliott bringing the goods to Feeding Chittenden

Fast forward to the happy ending, when an unusual alliance delivered over 400 pounds of staple foods to hungry Vermonters.  The DoubleTree agreed to return GMWEA’s deposit in the form of food (food that conference attendees didn’t get to eat, back in November).  GMWEA past president Tom DiPietro contacted Feeding Chittenden, one of Vermont’s largest hunger-response organizations, who welcomed the food donation.  All agreed that the gift would be made in honor of our 2020 award winners – a way of paying forward their service to Vermont in 2019.

On Thursday morning, February 18, GMWEA board members Tom DiPietro, Chris Robinson, and Wayne Elliott drove to the DoubleTree to pick up the food; they then headed to Feeding Chittenden’s HQ on North Winooski Avenue, Burlington, to deliver it.

You can cook a lot of great dishes, for a lot of people, with this stuff: 72 pounds of garbanzo beans, 50 pounds of brown rice, 50 pounds of white rice, 80 pounds of liquid eggs, 40 pounds of shredded jack cheddar cheese, 12 gallons of canola/olive oil, 20 pounds of Cabot cheddar slices, and 60 pounds of dry black beans. 

Feeding Chittenden – formerly Chittenden Emergency Food Shelf – serves over 12,000 people a year through six innovative programs.  In partnership with Vermont Foodbank, they also operate the Community Kitchen Academy, which trains unemployed and underemployed individuals for careers in the food service industry – while cooking meals for community members going hungry in these tough times.  Check them out at www.feedingchittenden.org .

Huge thanks are due all around: to Sherri Neumann, director of catering and events at the Doubletree Hotel; to all the folks at Feeding Chittenden; and, finally, to those who demonstrated expertise and devotion in the water quality professions in 2019:

  • Vilas Gentes, wholesale maintenance technician, Champlain Water District, who won the Michael J. Garofano Water Operator of the Year Award
  • Peter Laramie, chief operator, Fair Haven WWTF and Robert Wheeler, chief operator, Bellows Falls and Saxtons River WWTFs, winners of the Operator Excellence, Wastewater Award
  • Randolph Center Water System, which won the Facility Excellence, Water Award
  • City of Newport WWTF, winner of the Facility Excellence, Wastewater Award
  • Endyne Laboratory Services, Inc., which won the Andrew Fish Laboratory Excellence Award
  • Cody Grimm, water/wastewater operator, Simon Operation Services, winner of the Bob Wood Young Professional award
  • Dave Wheeler, stormwater project manager, South Burlington, who won the Stormwater Award
  • Liz Royer, executive director, Vermont Rural Water Association, winner of the Elizabeth Walker Meritorious Service Award


PS: GMWEA is now seeking nominations for its 2020 awards!  To nominate an individual, facility, or company, visit the awards page at www.gmwea.org .

Jeff Wennberg: A Life in Public Service

Jeff Wennberg claims he has retired.  You can’t blame his colleagues for being skeptical.

A glance at his resume suggests why.  He’s spent 35 years in environmental administration and public service, including serving as mayor of Rutland, commissioner of Vermont’s Dept. of Environmental Conservation, board member and president of the Vermont League of Cities and Towns, chair of the environmental policy committee for the National League of Cities, chair of the Governmental Advisory Committee for US EPA, and served on many other government and non-profit organizations, and, until recently, as commissioner of Rutland’s Department of Public Works. 

Jeff is a big-picture thinker who has a wonk’s fascination with technology.  He operates with a refreshingly independent take on policy matters spiced with a sardonic sense of humor.  And, fortunately for GMWEA, a long and deep commitment to water quality.  (He’s been a member of GMWEA’s Government Affairs Committee for many years.)

Q: You earned a BS in Physics and an MS in Industrial Management.  Why the switch to public service? 

JW: When I served on the Rutland’s School Board, I discovered that public service gave me a greater sense of personal satisfaction than my private sector job. When it came time to move on, I sought out public sector work and landed a job with Congressman Jim Jeffords.  Jeffords was a mentor of mine, along with Governor Richard Snelling and Jack Daley, mayor of Rutland.

Public servants can take pride in their work, knowing that they are making a real difference in peoples’ lives. Just look at our drinking water and wastewater personnel – these people take their jobs seriously and have enormous pride in the work they do. . . we’re lucky to have so many such motived, devoted people here in Vermont.

Above: Jeff works the press with Rutland mayor David Allaire and U.S. Representative Peter Welch

Q: And yet they’re largely unappreciated!  People expect water to flow when they turn the tap, toilets to empty when they flush.  They don’t recognize the infrastructure and human expertise and devotion that makes it happen!

JW: Exactly. But I say to my guys that when the people you serve DON’T notice – THAT is the definition of success. . .   As DEC commissioner, and in Rutland, I always saw part of my job was to sing their praises – to communicate the degree of devotion and professionalism these people possess.

Q: Which you do very effectively.  You show an impressive ability to convey complex, often technical ideas in accessible ways.  Is that a native gift of gab, or a learned skill?

JW: It’s crucial to be able to translate to non-technical people the heart of a complex idea.    For example, as commissioner of Vermont DEC, my very first invitation for a public speech was at a GMWEA conference.  I wanted let them know where I was coming from as the new commissioner without getting into policy minutia.

Q: So, what did you tell those GMWEA members?

JW: I was very clear about where the rubber meets the road. I was already known for being outspoken in criticism of regulators, and I shared with the GMWEA audience what I said to the DEC staff: “When does environmental protection take place? It’s not when laws are made, it’s not when money is allocated, it’s not when rules are written or when the regulators are hired — not one pollutant is removed.  The environment is protected when an alarm goes off at the wastewater treatment plant at 2 a.m. and the operator has the knowledge, the resources, and the authority to do the right thing.”

“The environment is protected when an alarm goes off at the wastewater treatment plant at 2 a.m. and the operator has the knowledge, the resources, and the authority to do the right thing.”

Q:  You seem to be willing to be a maverick in policy perspectives — to take some heat if needed.

JW: I tell people, You gotta be willing to wear a ‘kick me’ sign, and wear it proudly!  Good ideas often take heat if they challenge the status quo.  I am willing to be someone who inflames if that’s what’s needed.  Sometimes being a lightning rod is the way to get attention, which is always necessary if you want to change minds.

Q: One example might be your view on combined sewer systems.  Rutland has had its problems with CSOs, yet you’re willing to tack against the prevailing winds of sentiment on that.

JW: Well, despite overflows, combined systems are demonstrably better than systems lacking stormwater treatment.  Combined systems take in stormwater all year, removing pollutants every day EXCEPT for the comparatively brief overflows.

The Rutland plant processes about 1.7 billion gallons a year – about 650 to 750 million of which are stormwater.  We showed that despite overflows, the net phosphorous removal was enormous.  In 2017, 3 million gallons of wastewater bypassed the system during CSOs, allowing 73 pounds of phosphorus to be released.  But 1,278 pounds were removed that same year by processing stormwater through the treatment plant. We need to look at the whole picture if we are going to successfully protect water quality.

So what’s next for Jeff Wennberg? 

Jeff says he’s looking forward to spending more time with his family – his wife of 43 years, two adult children, and three grand-kids.  He still serves on GMWEA’s Government Affairs Committee and the Vt. Citizens Advisory Committee on the Lake Champlain’s Future.  He’ll probably do some consulting – “but only if it’s fun.”  And he plans to do some writing: “As everybody knows, I love to tell stories.”   Like Abe Lincoln, he has a penchant for illustrating his thoughts with one-liner sayings or humorous stories — so he’s working on a collection of instructive anecdotes that offer advice based on his long professional experience. 

“I say to my guys that when the people you serve DON’T notice — THAT is the definition of success.”

Editor: Jeff, thanks so much for your good work over so many years.  Sorry, but people DID notice — and yet you still meet the definition of success. Best wishes in all your future endeavors!

Survey Reveals Water & Sewer Arrearages

At the request of Sen. Chris Bray, chair of the Vermont Senate’s Committee on Natural Resources and Energy, GMWEA conducted a survey of the state’s water, wastewater, and stormwater facilities in January. 

The goal: To determine the past due balances — what some towns call “aged receivables” — left unpaid by households and businesses.  This information will help assess future funding needs for the Vermont COVID-19 Arrearages Assistance Program (VCAAP), which provides grants to eligible individuals and entities to pay utility bills. 

GMWEA’s Public Relations committee, chaired by Joe Duncan (left), general manager of Champlain Water District, took the lead.  Staff contacted over 900 individuals in city and town governments statewide, requesting data on arrearages over 60 days; 96 municipal entities responded.

The information was eye-opening.  As GMWEA reported to the Senate, respondents collectively reported the following arrearages:

  • Wastewater: $1,823,793  
  • Drinking water: $1,750,548
  • Stormwater: $137,554
  • Total arrearages in responding municipalities: $3,704,625

The committee then calculated the implications of these figures.  The cities and towns reporting represent a population of 324,791, or 71% of the total population of cities/towns with municipal systems.

Extrapolating the total statewide arrearages from that proportion, GMWEA concluded that water, wastewater, and stormwater utilities are facing $5,218,000 in unpaid user fees!  The potential impact on individuals, businesses — and municipal budgets — is huge.

The survey did not determine how much of the arrearages result from the economic impacts of COVID-19.  However, based on the data received, GMWEA has recommended that $5,250,000 be provided to VCAAP to ease financial hardships associated with the pandemic.

GMWEA urges Individuals, businesses, and municipal entities to learn more about VCAAP and to assess their eligibility for grants by visiting the Vermont Dept. of Public Service page by clicking here. Or, just search the web for “VCAAP.”

To return to GMWEA’s website, click here.

PFAS Source Control at Last!

A new bill taken up in January, 2021, by the Vermont House proposes to impose restrictions on the use, manufacturing, sale, and distribution of several products containing per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances.

Introduced by Reps. Dolan, Squirrell, Lefebvre, McCullough, Ode, and Sheldon, H.26  specifically names the products known to have the highest PFAS concentrations or those most likely to be absorbed or ingested by humans, notably class B firefighting foam, food packaging, and residential rugs and carpets. 

GMWEA’s 35-member Government Affairs Committee (GAC) welcomed the legislation, noting that – given the wide use of these 5,000+ related molecules, the difficulty of detecting and remediating them – source control is the only realistic mitigation strategy.  In a letter to Rep. Amy Sheldon, chair of the House Committee on Natural Resources, Fish, and Wildlife, our GAC expressed support for the measure, stating, in part:

“Given the limited, costly, and unproven treatment technologies, GMWEA and other similar water quality organizations nationwide have long advocated for source control of PFAS chemicals as the best solution to this problem. Limiting, as much as practical, the introduction of PFAS chemicals on the supply side will ultimately reduce what enters our waste stream. H.26 is a welcome step forward in achieving that critical objective.”

Under the proposed legislation, “A person, municipality, or State agency shall not discharge or otherwise use for training purposes class B firefighting foam that contains intentionally added PFAS.”  Manufacturers are similarly prohibited from selling or distributing such products in  Vermont, unless the inclusion of PFAS is required by federal law.

The food-packaging restrictions also include phthalates and bisphenols – used primarily in the manufacture of polycarbonate plastic and epoxy resins – proven in animal studies to cause reproductive disorders and possibly cancer.  The legislation would grant the Department of Health the power to prohibit such products if it is deemed that safer alternatives exist.

The sale and distribution of carpets containing PFAS are also subject to restrictions in the bill.  Carpets, couches, and mattresses are by far the leading contributors to landfill-leachate PFAS pollution, according to a the October, 2019 study by Sanborn, Head and Associates.

H.26 also designated PFAS as “chemicals of high concern to children.”  (A parallel bill, H.27, proposed requiring warning labels on products containing PFAS.)

The terms relating to firefighting foam and chemicals of high concern to children are proposed to take effect on July 1, 2022; those relating to carpets and food packaging on July 1, 2023. 

The bill’s future in the 2021 session has yet to be determined – but source control of PFAS is at last getting the attention it deserves!

To return to GMWEA’s website, click here.

GMWEA Virtual Seminars, Nov. 5

Join GMWEA on Thursday, Nov. 5 for three, 1-hour technical sessions relevant to anyone working in the water quality industry!  They’ll be presented by outstanding instructors via Zoom, and attendees in both wastewater and water will receive 1THC for each training.  Access to a computer is required. Register soon! See below for more information. 

Agenda

8:30 a.m.: Welcome and introductions with the GMWEA board of directors

9:00 a.m.: INDUSTRIAL HYGIENE, presented by Shawn Barth, industrial hygiene and occupational safety expert with Vermont’s Work SAFE.  Credits: 1 Water TCH, 1 Wastewater TCH.

Shawn will provide a review of industrial hygiene and related implications for protecting worker health and safety at wastewater treatment plants  The presentation will also review hazards and VOSHA regulations common to wastewater treatment operations.

10:15 a.m.: TECHNOLOGY IN THE WATERWORKS INDUSTRY,  presented by Nicholas Bates, geographic information systems specialist for E.J.  Prescott.  Credits: 1 Water TCH, 1 Wastewater TCH.

Nick, an expert at remote monitoring, leak detection, and 3D scanning and modelling of water and wastewater systems, will explore the latest and greatest technological innovations affecting the water and wastewater treatment fields.

11:30 a.m.: eDMR TRAINING & TIPS, presented by Mari Cato and Jill Draper, both of Vermont Dept. of Environmental Conservation. Credits: 1 Wastewater TCH. Does your regular electronic discharge monitoring report (eDMR) have you scratching your head?  After submittal, have you gotten feedback saying something wasn’t recorded properly?  Learn from Jill and Mari about navigating and understanding the EDMR reporting – and how to avoid the typical errors made.

How to enroll: Go to www.gmwea.org to enroll and pay online — the direct link is https://gmwea.z2systems.com/np/clients/gmwea/event.jsp?event=5& .  Or, contact Lisa Goodell, (802) 262-958 or lisa.goodell@gmwea.org

Cost: $25 for GMWEA members for all three sessions.  Not a GMWEA member?  Pay $70 for the courses AND GMWEA membership for the rest of 2020 and all of 2021!

The Best in the Business!

Not much has gone as planned in 2020, but GMWEA’s annual awards stand as an example to the contrary – we were determined to honor those who demonstrated exceptional know-how and commitment in the water, wastewater, and stormwater fields in 2019.  The individuals, facilities, and companies selected are truly “the best in the business.”

In January. GMWEA reached out to solicit nominations in 10 categories.  The Award Committee’s deliberations were not easy, due to the high quality and number of nominees!  Complicating the process was the cancellation of Spring Meeting – where the full ceremony, with speeches, photos, and award presentations ordinarily takes place.

But COVID-19 can’t negate the achievements of our water quality community.  Here are the 2019 award winners, with selected comments from nominators. Our apologies to winners not represented by photos here — blame COVID, and be assured we’ll catch you on at the special awards ceremony on November 4th at the DoubleTree Hotel in Burlington!

Michael J. Garofano Water Operator of the Year: VILAS GENTES, wholesale maintenance technician, Champlain Water District: “Vilas is our go-to person. He plays a key role in planned and unplanned service in fieldwork because he’s seen just about everything in his 30 years of service. He’s a mentor and positive role model for younger members of the team.  It is very obvious how dedicated he is to his profession, and how much pride he has in the work he does.”

Andrew Fish Laboratory Excellence: ENDYNE LABORATORY SERVICES

“[We have] greatly appreciated the customer service Endyne provided to public water systems monitoring for PFAS, required to occur by December 1, 2019.   Water systems had to use labs for PFAS that were not providing any basic customer services.  Endyne stepped into that gap. In addition, Endyne’s willingness to collate the samples and submit PFAS data electronically substantially reduced the amount of time for data input by state admin staff.  Such actions reduced the stress and workload for the public water systems and the State; Endyne is to be commended for . . . so ably dealing with the PFAS situation.” (Above: Endyne staff Claire Monachino, Harry Locker, Eileen Toomey.)

Bob Wood Young Professional Award: CODY GRIMM, water/wastewater operator, Simon Operation Services.

“Cody plays bass in a rock band. He also rocks as a water and wastewater operator. He is both patient and thoughtful with the daily operations of multiple water and wastewater systems, with a methodical approach that has benefited his systems in big-budget areas such as chemical savings and overtime costs. . . . Soon after becoming an operator, he started advocating for young professionals to enter this industry by participating in science tech career panel discussions at his alma mater, the University of Vermont.”    

Stormwater Award: DAVE WHEELER, stormwater project manager, South Burlington

“Dave has worked at our stormwater utility since 2015. During that time, he has overseen the design and construction of numerous large scale stormwater improvement projects. He has played a critical role in the development and implementation of the City’s Flow Restoration Plan, and is currently preparing the City’s Phosphorus Control Plan. Dave has also worked closely with the State to improve the design of stormwater treatment wetlands . . . He has presented on stormwater topics in Vermont and the New England region and is always willing to share the knowledge he’s gained.”

Operator Excellence, Wastewater (Note: Due to the exceptional qualifications of these nominees, GMWEA’s Awards Committee announced two winners!)

PETER LARAMIE, chief operator, Fair Haven WWTF

“Pete is retiring in July, after 35+ years as Fair Haven’s chief operator. . . Often using little besides baled hay string, duct tape, and Yankee ingenuity, he has steadfastly kept our rickety old plant afloat. Over the years, he has completely revamped our treatment process, saving thousands of dollars on electricity and chemical addition.  It’s high time that his efforts, dedication, and service to his community are recognized.”

ROBERT WHEELER, chief operator, Bellows Falls and Saxtons River WWTFs

“Rob has been an operator of both facilities for close to thirty years and has been through four massive upgrades to the Bellows Falls Plant and one at the Saxtons River plant. . . He is fair to everyone around him and betters the job for each of us and no matter how small or how large job is. . . . He has taught me everything I know today from operations, laboratory, out in the field or even learning life changes, like being a better man, father, and friend.”

Facility Excellence, Wastewater: CITY OF NEWPORT WWTF

“Resulting from the hard work of operators Donald (Pedro) Grondin, Tim Dagesse, and Alex Russell, the facility has made many improvements in operations and efficiency. This high energy team is saving their community a lot of money and making huge operational improvements.” (The nominator lists 15 major improvements, some of them implemented entirely in-house by the operators — installing energy-efficient blowers, updating or adding monitoring technology and lab capacity, and improving safety and security programs, and more.)  “This is quite a list of accomplishments for a three-person crew that runs the wastewater facility, several pump stations and the water filter plant!”

Facility Excellence, Water: RANDOLPH CENTER WATER SYSTEM

“The water system is made up of two major entities — Randolph Fire District #1 and Vermont Technical College (VTC).  Each entity owns portions of the system, and for years each has had separate operators, budgets, and long-term plans for repair, rehabilitation, and replacement of the infrastructure.  In order to improve the technical, financial, and managerial capacity of their water system, and continue to offer excellent service, the Fire District and VTC have come together to form a more united water system.  Now they are working diligently as one cohesive group to develop an Asset Management Plan that meets the needs of the water system as a whole, as well as the individual entities.  This has required compromise, a willingness to forge ahead when things get tough, and an all-around great attitude from all involved . . . a grace and excellence that we should all strive to attain.”                                                      

Elizabeth Walker Meritorious Service Award: LIZ ROYER, executive director, Vermont Rural Water Association

“Working 14 years as the source water protection [SWP] specialist for VRWA, Liz has assisted a majority of Vermont’s drinking water systems. Writing and implementing SWP plans throughout the state, she has had an active role in improving Vermont’s water quality. Liz has attended town and local meetings to promote community awareness and has served on numerous committees and boards. She has played an advisory role for both state and federal agencies. . .  Now as the director of VRWA she has brought a bright new energy to the organization. She is currently working to help all Vt. drinking water systems navigate PFAS legislation, working especially hard for the smallest systems . . . Liz exemplifies the best of the water industry!”

GMWEA President’s Award: DANIEL HECHT, executive director, GMWEA

“During my time as President I could consistently count on Daniel to do what was in the best interest of GMWEA. . . He has helped the organization through many difficult situations. Thanks to his leadership and commitment, the organization has undertaken numerous initiatives that were previously beyond our capability. Despite the uncertainty that the coronavirus has caused in the short term, I think GMWEA is on a good path going forward. The benefits of Daniel’s good work will continue to bear fruit and we’re well positioned to grow.”

                                     

Water Quality Day: 2020 More Than Ever

True, in 2020, this important annual observance isn’t making the waves (pun noted) it has in past years.  This is because our main public awareness events – tours at drinking water and wastewater facilities – can’t take place due to COVID-19 restrictions.  Last year, 19 facilities throughout the state welcomed students, legislators, and the general public for fun, informative, eye-opening tours. 

This year, none are allowed to.

Ironically, though, the pandemic underscores the importance of our water quality infrastructure and the dedicated professionals who keep it running, 24/7/365.  How many times have we all been advised to wash our hands in the last four months?  Try doing it without clean, running water.  

Hospitals, public institutions, and essential businesses are on heightened sanitation protocols – relying on the water that comes so readily from the tap.  Vermonters sheltering in place at home rely on water coming to and leaving their sometimes claustrophobic residences for virtually every need.

Water Quality Day is a day to appreciate the systems and people who keep it clean and flowing.

And what about the water that leaves our hospitals, offices, and homes?  As it turns out, the SARS-Cov-2 virus can survive in human feces for up to 33 days.  A May 6 Science News article, reporting on recent studies, quoted researchers as saying “the potential spread of COVID-19 via sewage ‘must not be neglected’ in the battle to protect human health.”  Check out the article here: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/05/200506133603.htm .

In a May 8 article on Fox News, Prof. Aaron Packman, of Northwestern University’s McCormick School of Engineering, put it in even starker terms: “New information on COVID-19 indicates that the virus infects the human GI tract and is excreted into sewage. Our assessments indicate that there is a risk of waterborne transmission of the coronavirus.”   Read more of Packman’s comments here: https://www.foxnews.com/science/risk-of-covid-19-transmission-from-waste-water-higher-than-believed-study-claims .

That means Vermont’s 500 + wastewater operators are being pretty courageous every day, when they go to work to deal with the stuff up close and personal.  Fortunately, they’re smart, too, and have undertaken special facility sanitation, staff rotation, and personal protection protocols to keep themselves and the public healthy.  (Also, to help keep plants operating, GMWEA, VRWA, and the Vt. DEC have reactivated the VTWARN system, allowing facilities to get substitute personnel if one of their staff gets sick or quarantined: www.VTWARN.org.)

Water Quality Day 2019 at Wilmington WWTF

Are Vermonters at risk from COVID-19 transmission in wastewater?  Not likely – because those “first responders” at your local wastewater plant are making sure you’re not.  OSHA reports that coronaviruses are vulnerable to the same disinfection techniques used currently in the health care sector, and “Current disinfection conditions in wastewater treatment facilities is expected to be sufficient.”  Prof. Packman, cited above, says that transmission risk in sewage is “likely to be a problem . . . [primarily] in parts of the world that do not have good water infrastructure.”

So, on Water Quality Day 2020, I say we renew, with determination, our commitment to maintaining our good water infrastructure.  And let us give an extra big tip of the hat in gratitude to our water quality professionals, who put it on the line for us every day.

If you agree, please take a moment to circulate this post via Facebook or blog, or write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper. 

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