Water and wastewater operators, mechanics, and technicians are all being challenged now more than ever before. New technology, limited staffing, aging infrastructure, higher customer expectations, and more regulations and reporting are keeping us busy every day of every month of every year. And then, when you add on the internal and external demands for your time, including research, writing and reviewing documents and reports, and staffing and management issues, it’s a wonder that anything gets done. We must, however, maintain our focus on the daily operations of our facilities, and this is where, as I say, “the rubber meets the road.”
I’ve put together some of my own thoughts on operations that hopefully can be of use to you at your workplace. Some of this is very basic, but it should not be overlooked and is worth noting.
A Guide to Successful Operations
- Know your equipment
- Know your team
- Know your permits
- Know your numbers
- Know your customers
- Know your limitations
- Know your goals
At each of your facilities, you should understand the path and flow of every process, using a flow diagram or display chart. You should know each piece of equipment or component; know how to monitor and adjust for your operation parameter control points; know your equipment by make, model, size, capacity, flow, depth, dimensions, and horsepower; and know where your operation and maintenance manual is for each unit. All staff members should know how to bypass certain components for that time when the system goes down (and we all know it will go down!) and know which team members are the specialists for which components—and then learn all that you can from them.
This will help you understand, in depth, each component of the process for troubleshooting or control points. Monitor your instrumentation trends and sampling results daily for your facility. Do this for each component of treatment, and see what your removal is and if you can tweak it for more efficiency. Monitor chemical usage and power consumption for your plant and treatment components. Understand how it relates to each line item in your budget and submit changes in your strategic budget planning for forecasted increases or decreases. This will help you move forward to have the funding when it’s needed.
We are all slightly different in our thought processes and how we do things. This diversity helps us see the “bigger picture” of our facilities and can lead to great ideas and innovations. The size of your operation will also determine the task and roles for each team member, and each member has an important role to play in the running of our facilities. Like spokes in the wheel, each is as important as the other and strengthens the overall team.
Know all team members and the roles they play in the operation and maintenance of the facility. Operators, mechanics, instrument and control technicians, laboratory and compliance technicians—and even management—all must work together, as a whole and individually, in their daily tasks.
It’s important that they work together to address issues in a team approach for true solutions. Treatment operators are tasked with monitoring the components used for drinking water treatment and the proper removal of contaminants from wastewater; the decisions they make to adjust any processes are directly related to compliance, and they’re also tasked with periodic reporting to ensure production compliance. They may have different roles in the processes that complete the picture of a streamlined and compliant practice, but all are equally important to ensure purity and protect public health.
One good thing to do is review your facility operating permit periodically, which really helps you understand the requirements of the facility. The operations compliance is spelled out in the document from the state regulatory agency; use this and the regulations from the Florida Administrative Code to fine-tune your operations and meet all your compliance requirements. Use these requirements daily as operational guidelines when needed.
After reviewing your permits and the regulations behind them, know your plant’s numbers; what I mean is your flows and your compliance numbers, like 5-5-3-1 compliance nutrient discharge numbers on the wastewater side, or your total organic carbon, trihalomethanes, or haloacetic acids numbers on the water side. This will go a long way when trouble happens or you have to talk with others about your process. Take some time to review all the sampling and report data on your discharge monitoring reports or monthly operating reports. Know them and you’re a step ahead.
We all provide a service and a product in our daily work. We must serve our customers to protect public health and the general welfare of our community. Have a dialogue or feedback with your customers about how you’re doing with the service provided, then use the feedback as ways to adjust you methods. Use the media (and social media) to inform your customers about a facility project; an educated customer will be happier and more satisfied with your service, as well as providing positive feedback. As an example, the annual consumer confidence report is required by the Safe Drinking Water Act; use it to your advantage for education to tell your costumer how you’re doing. Our industry is always improving, and we need better marketing and outreach to the public about our services and what has to be done to meet there daily needs.
Now, we cannot be expected to know everything out there. Today’s staff can be lean, and outside help is good to have. This is done with a contractor, supplier, or consultant to help you solve an issue. You never know the day when the next big problem will show up; many times in my career we have needed to call in more crew and equipment to repair large pipework. We are all responsible to keep water flowing at all times. Keep the phone numbers of these helpers handy for after-hour repairs.
Keep an inventory of the parts needed for your equipment and know all suppliers’ emergency contact information in case you have to track down replacement parts. Emergency response plans should be reviewed, revised, and practiced before each storm season—like right now, in May. Also, these response plans should be made available for staff to use in the moment, as well as your standard operating procedures and operation and maintenance manuals.
Your team members will also need training for improvements on new technology and the upgrade of knowledge to keep them sharp and help them advance in their careers. The FWPCOA can help you in this task; check out our website at www.fwpcoa.org for details. You can also take online training as well there, too!
Every operation must have goals or standards to operate by every day. Some common themes are public health and welfare, regulatory compliance, customer service, awards and recognitions, finances, and budgeting, as well as team member training and enhancement. Choose the ones that will benefit you and your facility and use them as guidelines to benchmark your operations. Performance measures can also be used for to measure effectiveness and efficiency.
I hope you can use some of this in the operation your facility. May your operations continue to serve your community by delivering clean water, collecting and treating waste streams, and collecting and removing stormwater. Good luck—and go with the flow!