Wastewater treatment plant operators play a critical role in keeping Washington’s water clean. The facilities deal with everything homes and businesses dump in or flush down the drain. This includes items sewage systems were not made to deal with, like “flushable” wipes, face masks, oils, and cooking grease.
Each year, the Washington Department of Ecology honors the wastewater treatment plants in our state that achieve full compliance with their water quality permits with the agency’s Outstanding Performance Award. Only about 40% of Washington’s treatment systems earn the top-performing status each year, and only one facility in state – the Manchester Wastewater Treatment Plant in Kitsap County – has won the honor each year since the award’s inception in 1995.
For their work in 2021, Ecology is recognizing 124 facilities with the Outstanding Performance mark. Nine of those facilities are receiving the award for the first time. For the full list of recipients, see the 2021 Outstanding Wastewater Treatment Plant Award Recipients list.
“Wastewater treatment plant operators are some of our unsung heroes.” said Vince McGowan, Ecology’s Water Quality program manager. “They work hard to protect our water quality every hour of every day. I’m proud to recognize these outstanding operators and their facilities.”
What does it take to run a top-performing plant?
You can visit the Salmon Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant website to see how a facility that has earned the Outstanding Performance Award for 15 years in a row serves it 50,000 customers in Clark County.
We talked to employees at WWTPs to get a better sense of what this award means to them. Here’s what a few operators had to say:
"I feel honored to receive this award for the first time," said Mark Lewis operator from City of Deer Park. "I have been serving the community in one capacity or another, as a fire fighter, and operator – for over 35 years."
"I was raised to do a good job or don’t do it at all," said City of Omak, operator Jesus Arciniega. "I’m committed to doing a good job and keeping the environment safe. I know when I go home at the end of the day, I did my best. Anyone can visit my plant any day and it they will find it clean, organized, and running well. Respect the license, or don’t call yourself an operator."
"Other than me, all of the operators are inmates," said Mike Henry, operator in charge for the Olympic Corrections Center. "This is the 5th year in a row we have won the award and some of them have been here for most of that time. They are very proud of the award, take pride in their work, and are always trying to get better limits than are required in the permit. They don’t want to screw up the next year – they want to keep that award coming!"
Ecology evaluated more than 300 wastewater treatment facilities operating in Washington to determine whether they were meeting state pollution limits, monitoring and reporting requirements, planning to prevent spills, performing pretreatment on wastewater, and operation demands outlined in their permits.
Be a part of the solution
With the state’s growing population, more wastewater treatment plant operators are needed. If you have experience as a welder, machinist, mechanic, laboratory technician, engineer, or as an operator at a similar facility, you might have the right type of experience for this work. Ecology’s certification program for wastewater operators webage has more information.