November 2006, Vol. 18, No.11

From the Editors

From the Editors WE&T Prelude

Going Deep

Most of the articles we run in WE&T are about treating water, not diving into it. But this month we bring you a story about a utility that decided to take the plunge.

The Hampton Roads Sanitary District (Virginia Beach, Va.), knowing that some of its ocean outfalls were more than 30 years old, embarked on a program to inspect and repair them. The dive teams acted as underwater detectives — examining the outfall pipe and diffuser systems at four plants, diagnosing damage, and noting potential trouble spots to be examined in future inspections. Along the way, they also learned quite a bit about past storm events, and encountered a variety of marine life.

Has your utility taken on an innovative project, or discovered an unusual solution? We’d love to hear from you. Write to us at

Melissa Jackson, editor 

Operations Forum Editor's note

The Subtle Touch

The other weekend I watched a backhoe operator swing his rig around toward a newly constructed house, carefully avoid several power lines connected to the house next door, and slip his bucket just under the lip of a maple tree stump. As I watched him rip the stump out, I realized that even while he was heaving the stump free, he was using a tremendous amount of finesse.

That got me to thinking: How much of wastewater treatment is art? On a tour of a biosolids pelletizing facility, the person watching quality control would pull a sample of partially dried solids and squeeze them in his hand. (Afterward, he immediately washed his hands.) He said that getting the moisture content just right before dumping the load into the pelletizer required “the human touch.” We all laughed and a few of the people on the tour squirmed uncomfortably.

Treatment systems are designed, built, and maintained to operate by specific protocols within certain thresholds, and they perform admirably. But to get that extra bit of treatment requires a special talent. In an industry where success is regulated by federal laws, watched over by states, and enforced by courts, it’s strange to think that gut feeling can play a role.

I also find it surprising that such small changes make a difference. In a plant processing millions of gallons of water a day, who would think moving the injection port for polymer a few feet up or down the line would matter? But it does.

I am continually amazed at how complex operating even a “simple” wastewater treatment plant is. And I am always impressed with the amount of thought and ingenuity plant managers and operators use to make sure that they get the most work done as safely and cheaply as possible.

The article linked to here recounts how one utility rebid its polymer contract after its existing one fell though. It managed to keep costs the same, improve operations, and build some price protection into the new contract. Likewise, in the article linked to here, you’ll read about operators who experimented with a dewatering system and found that they could save time and money by switching how they conditioned the solids before dewatering. The end result was an estimated $400,000 savings each year.

Perhaps, the one place where gut feel has no place is safety. Sure, if you work around a piece of equipment long enough, you gather a sense of how it is running. But standard operating procedures are essential. They help to ensure adequate treatment and to protect vital equipment. But most importantly, they safeguard the lives of personnel. For example, pelletizing biosolids is a great way to create a desirable product, but it comes with safety considerations of its own.

Regardless of what you call that special finesse many operators display, it’s an important part of our treatment plants that hopefully will be passed on to future generations of operators.

Steve Spicer, editor

 ©2006 Water Environment Federation. All rights reserved.