Most people don’t think much about what happens to the wastewater that leaves our homes and businesses… but those of us in the industry understand the importance of effective wastewater treatment to our environment and our community. Technological advances continue to improve overall efficiency, but as the times change so do the challenges operators face.
Cost continues to be a challenge for wastewater treatment facilities, and there are many factors that influence the cost of running an effective operation.
Energy consumption is one of the largest expenses faced, as the amount of energy needed for biological treatment is estimated to consume 2-3% of an entire developed nation’s electrical power, or approximately 60 TWh (terawatt hours) per year.
Advancement in biological treatment processes does offer some solutions to help mitigate energy cost. Use of fine screens in primary treatment, fine air technology for the aeration process and direct treatment of high concentration return streams are just a few. A qualified, professional management company such as Alliance Water Resources, can advise clients as to which approach will provide the most cost savings for their specific system.
By-product production of Biosolids as a result of the treatment process is another costly challenge for operators. In order to dispose of Biosolids in an environmentally friendly way, many treatment plants look for ways to recycle the Biosolids, which contains valuable organic nutrients, for agriculture. Some modern treatment facilities are also able to reduce the production of Biosolids throughout the process.
Activated sludge plants are not only costly to construct but also require massive land area to accommodate large and pricey settling tanks and aeration basins. Some operations are reducing the needed space and cost by utilizing biofilm attachments, such as IFAS (Integrated Fixed Film/Activated Sludge) and MABR (Membrane Aerated Biofilm Reactor), to increase the amount of biomass per unit volume, resulting in smaller footprints.
Intelligent technologies are another solution to help mitigate cost, as these new advancements require less human intervention and deliver energy-savings as well as reliable, enhanced management. These advancements include pump technology, which is becoming smarter and more efficient due to the integration of IoT (Internet of Things). Also, high-efficient, low-speed submersible mixers can quickly adjust for seasonal fluctuations or other weather-causing changes. And automated technologies, which self-diagnose and offer recommended solutions, enable plant managers to implement preventative measures. All of these solutions reduce operator time, allowing it to be spent in other needed areas.
Improved tools for data collection and organizing also help drive down costs as operators can watch for trends and be more proactive and precise in treatment adjustments. Continuous monitoring systems reduce the burden on staff for regular testing, while providing accurate and consistent data.
An aging staff coupled with a decreasing talent pool make staffing one of the biggest issues our industry faces. It is imperative that professionals in this field be appropriately trained and certified, and the lack of those qualified people is taking its toll. The industry is not perceived to be exciting or enticing by today’s youth, who lack awareness of the extensive technology being utilized, and the responsibility associated with each position can be daunting.
To combat the challenges of staffing, some companies like Alliance Water Resources provide ample, in-house training programs and encouragement for staff to continue education and obtain multiple licenses. In this way, the company is more desirable to new hires who want big career opportunity. In addition, offering advancement and growth opportunity keeps current employees challenged and engaged.
In order to increase interest in the field overall, industry professionals need to do a better job of raising awareness of how modern plants are operated and the technological advancements that make the industry desirable. The perception of wastewater as a career is antiquated and can be elevated through educational efforts.
Retirement of System Knowledge
As a large number of water and wastewater professionals approach retirement, the industry is faced with the challenge of how to preserve the knowledge these professionals have gained and hold. Complicated by aging infrastructure and a need for maintenance and repairs, it is imperative that we develop a plan for the transfer of knowledge and experience to the next generation of professionals.
One solution is to retain these retiring professionals as trainers and consultants for the upcoming generation. This is being done through organizations such as waterTALENT, who is devoted to creating a nationwide team of experienced water and wastewater operators with a career of experience.
Challenges to our industry are nothing new, and as population continues to grow, the continued need for clean water worldwide will also grow. With the most up-to-date information, our attention turned towards the future and the continuation of advancements in technology and processes, we can work together to bring solutions for our community and our world.