Looking at my blank computer screen now, I am wondering what I can say that would be different. How can I describe my wastewater operator exchange experience in Vermont?
Before June of 2017, I had no idea this program existed — until my plant superintendent shared an e-mail from New Hampshire Dept. of Environmental Services, asking if we were interested in sending an operator. I corresponded with N.H. contact Mike Carle, and he got my name submitted as an alternate with Sean Greig.
Later, my exchange confirmed, Chris Robinson — water quality superintendent of Shelburne, Vermont — contacted me with a final itinerary for my visit, Nov. 6, 7, and 8, 2018. Chris was also gracious enough to take me around to the plants on the second day of my tour. He explained the processes these plants use and the type of work they do to avoid having a negative impact on the environment.
The treatment plant tours, on the first two days, were very interesting. I was led through plants by operators with experience ranging from two months to over 30 years. In every case, they explained each step of their process with me and shared insights about how they keep things running — in some cases, while dealing with storm flows and equipment failures.
During my tour, I also spoke with lab techs at each plant, asking what types of tests they run and where they grab samples when they do checks on equipment. There was even time to look through the microscope on the Shelburne tour and talk about the installation of DO and ORP monitoring probes.
I was also lucky enough to meet a local farmer and ride along on a land application of treated liquid fertilizer fresh from the plant.
I discovered that plants use disk filters to polish effluent before it passes through UV lights for disinfection; operators explained that the filters help extend the service life between cleanings on light racks.
All of the plants running digesters were using the methane gas for heating and power generation, and some, coupled with solar, were able to greatly cut power costs.
Some plants were not set up for sludge thickening and have to truck the material to other plants to process. The plant where I work is in the same situation, so our town is considering upgrades to add machinery that will eliminate trucking costs. In the past, our facility was rarely used by haulers, but recently surrounding towns have set limits on daily amounts being accepted. Along with rate changes, this results in an increase in truck traffic.
My Vermont tour allowed me to ask people about maintenance issues with the septage receiving units, as I noticed we all share the same brand of equipment. There are so many different thoughts on septage; some plants are able to handle the loads better, while others are limited in capacity.
I spent my final day at GMWEA’s trade show, where I was able to meet with sales reps and get information on all of the newest technology for treatment plants. The event also included trainings for operators; I went to the morning Basic Math class and was pleasantly surprised at how much information they got across in an hour, with a very good instructor who understood how to keep it simple. Later, I sat in on the polymer course, and I was pleased to walk away with useful information that I can share with coworkers.
If I had to pick out one thing that stuck with me from the exchange program, it’s how well every one worked together between the different towns and operators. You get the sense that everyone is working toward the same goal: protecting the environment and producing skilled professional operators.
As operators we need to take time to thank groups like Green Mountain Water, who are willing to invest in us. Consider signing up and being a part of something that can make a difference!
Submitted by Ernie Smalley