Imagine that you have this monumental task: Take all the water washed or flushed down a drain or toilet and make it meet the standards of the Clean Water Act. The end result has to be water bodies that are swimmable, drinkable, and fishable. This is what wastewater treatment plant operators do every day!
Thank you to Washington's Wastewater Treatment Plant Operators
Nearly a third of Washington’s treatment systems earn the top-performing status each year, meaning they meet all state pollution limits, monitoring and reporting requirements, spill prevention planning, pretreatment, and operation demands outlined in their permits. This year we had the highest number of awardees since 2014 and celebrated the Manchester facility in Kitsap County, which is the only facility to win each year since the award’s inception in 1995.
“Wastewater treatment plant operators are some of our unsung heroes. They work hard to protect water quality every hour of every day. I’m proud to recognize these outstanding operators and their facilities.” – Vince McGowan, Ecology Water Quality Program Manager
Essential work in tough times
This year, saying thank you to wastewater operators is particularly important because of how this group has banded together in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Even though these current awards honor 2019 performance, we want to give additional thanks for their rapid response during the coronavirus pandemic.
When we all started staying home to keep one another safe, wastewater changed. Facilities had to adjust because wastewater flows from some areas decreased due to lack of tourists and businesses temporarily closing, but increased in other areas because more people are staying home. Also, as a result of COVID-19, operators saw an increase in materials not properly disposed of and clogging up pipes, including used personal protective equipment such as gloves and masks, along with antibacterial wipes. Operators joined together and made a plan to help one another if a facility experienced capacity issues or something broke. They volunteered resources, shared expertise, and even created an emergency call list to come help if something went wrong. We appreciate the initiative that wastewater treatment plant operators took on and their willingness to help all Washingtonians in these unprecedented times.
What this award means
We talked to employees at a few wastewater treatment plants to get a better sense of what this award means to them. Here’s what they had to say:
"It's a great honor to be able to have our previous awards presented to the operators in front of the city council. Our goal is to produce water that is safe. Also, all of the operators love to hunt, fish, and hike so we have additional interest in taking care of our environment. I like to think we are a crucial cog in the water cycle. We transform the water that we all pollute every day back to a cleaner version of itself, so that it can be safely returned to the environment for the health and survival of all the creatures, including us, that rely on it. ” – Bliss Morris, City of Port Townsend Plant Operation Manager
"We weren’t capable of earning the award until we got an upgrade. That's when we worked with Donna Smith, from Ecology's Central Regional office, to learn how to meet the award requirements. That really lit a fire under the operators. They wanted to prove to the city council that the funding needed to keep our operations running at top notch was well deserved and earned us an award." – Dave Lorenz City of Grandview Head Operator. Dave went on to say, "It’s hard to put into words what this award means to us. It's not like the Oscars where we give it to ourselves, it’s coming from our regulators, which gives us a tremendous degree of credibility. These awards have really changed the perception of an operator to an accomplished professional and brought a sense of pride to the profession."
Here are a few highlights from this year’s awards. The full list of awardees is available on our webpage.
This year's winners
Facilities with the most years of outstanding performance:
- Manchester (Kitsap Co.) 25 years
- Port Townsend WWTP 24 years
Facilities that won this year and have more than 15 years of outstanding performance, not necessarily consecutive:
- Salmon Creek (Discovery Clean Water Alliance), 20 years
- Seattle City Light – Newhalem, 20 years
- Chambers Creek, 18 years
- Eatonville, 18 years
- Sedro-Woolley, 18 years
- Lake Mayfield, 17 years
- Penn Cove Water & Sewer District, 17 years
- Birch Bay, 16 years
- Orcas Village, Eastsound Water District, 16 years
- Mount Vernon, 16 years
- City of Omak, 16 years
This year we have several first time winners:
- Crescent Bar, Grant County
- Brightwater Wastewater Treatment Plant, King County
- Quincy Water Reclamation Facility, Jefferson County
- City of Snohomish, Snohomish County
Congratulations to these facilities and all 125 facilities for their hard work protecting Washington’s waters!
Be a part of the solution
Ecology oversees the certification program for wastewater operators. Given the state’s growing population, we need to treat more and more wastewater. This is a great field, with growth opportunities. If you have experience as a welder, machinist, mechanic, operator at other similar facilities, laboratory technician, or engineer, you might have the right type of experience for this field!
Check out our certification program website for more information.