October 2007, Vol. 19, No.10

From the Editor

WE&T Prelude

What a Difference 35 Years Can Make

Melissa Jackson

One of the things I’ve most enjoyed about working at WEF is hearing what inspired members to pursue a career in water quality. I’ve talked to young engineers who found their calling when they opened their first Erector set, seasoned professionals who grew up without clean water and are determined to improve the lives of their native countrymen, and utility personnel who have advanced the field from when the Clean Water Act was enacted 35 years ago.

In 1972, I was too young to pay much attention to the Clean Water Act, much less know it would play a role in my career. But growing up in New York City, I was acutely aware of the need to clean up polluted waterways such as my native East River, which caused many a squeamish kindergartener to hold her nose as the school bus drove by it. Back then, the joke was that if motorcycle daredevil Evel Knievel — who aspired to jump the Grand Canyon — was really brave, he’d swim across the East River.

While that stunt never materialized, something even more amazing happened: The river was cleaned up. Today it’s the cleanest that it’s been in years. And it’s just one example of how the Clean Water Act has helped restore water quality across the United States.

In this issue we pay tribute to the 35th anniversary of the Clean Water Act. As we reach this milestone, it is appropriate to note the considerable accomplishments to date as well as consider the challenges ahead. Among all of the statistics and timelines, what strikes me most is the human element: the future generations who will benefit from a better quality of life, and the people who made this progress possible — many of whom are WEF members. I’m both grateful and privileged to serve this accomplished group of professionals.


Melissa Jackson, editor

Operations Forum Editor's Note

WWTP of Doom?

Steve Spicer

Has there ever been a horror movie set in a wastewater treatment plant? (If you know of one, please let me know!) If not, there really should be.

Think of all the nooks where the soon-to-be victim could try to hide. How the whir of the pump motors would mask the footsteps of the psychopath or supernatural hobgoblin as he confidently stalks his prey. How the victim would feel isolated and vulnerable in the unfamiliar environment of the treatment plant. Think what a great ending (and setup for the sequel) could be made of the monster getting washed away in the effluent flow, supposedly dead, but then reaching up out of the river water alongside a campground or boarding school.

While this movie may never be made, WWTPs do have their share of “horror stories” in the form of urban legends. The tales of what operators have rescued and recovered from headworks echo through the halls at conventions. Each time the stories are told, they seem to grow more fantastic (an entire Cadillac El Dorado) and further removed from the storyteller (I knew this guy who’s old supervisor once heard that…).

To find out what really comes down the line, we asked several of you about what you personally have seen come through the headworks. What we found might surprise you. Read all about it here.

While talk of movies and strange headworks finds is fun, successfully and efficiently operating a wastewater treatment plant and collection system is serious business. So when routine line cleaning and maintenance along a street of newly built homes led to a rash of burping, gargling, spurting toilets, the local utility was quick to respond. It investigated why and how high-velocity sanitary sewer jetting was leading to customers’ toilets being “possessed.” The story starts here.

Steve Spicer, editor