Five Questions with Karl Zimmer, Assistant Plant Manager, Wastewater Treatment Division

Karl Zimmer is an assistant plant manager at the West Point Treatment Plant in Magnolia. Find out what his job involves and why he finds it interesting after more than 30 years.

1. What was your first role at King County?karl-zimmer

My first role at King County was working as a Utility Worker at the West Point Treatment Plant. When I started in 1981, wastewater treatment was part of the Water Pollution Control Department for the Municipality of Metropolitan Seattle (METRO).

2. What does an Assistant Plant Manager at West Point Treatment Plant do?

I am one of two Assistant Plant Managers for the West Point Treatment Plant and conveyance system in the West Section. My primary role is to assist in managing the operation, maintenance, and administration of the conveyance system.  The West Section conveyance system includes 23 pump stations, 25 regulator and outfall stations, 3 Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) treatment plants, and a number of other CSO storage and odor control facilities. The West conveyance system is a combined system, so it carries both sewer and stormwater to the West Point Treatment Plant that can overflow during rainfall events. The County is implementing a plan to substantially reduce overflows of sewage-contaminated stormwater (CSO) into Puget Sound and other area waterbodies.  I have the opportunity to work with multidisciplinary teams on CSO control projects that will significantly benefit the environment and health of King County residents.

3. What do you like most about your job?

I really enjoy the people I work with and that they all do their best to protect the environment. We have a number of facilities that are over 50 years old that must be maintained and operated reliably. We are also designing and building new facilities to meet growth and new requirements.  I work with people that have very unique talents, all focused on a common goal. I also like that my job is more than just working in an office. The conveyance system extends throughout the county so I spend part of my time in the field. I learn something new about our system every day.

4. What is the biggest challenge in your job?

Wastewater treatment is a 24/7 business that must perform reliably under all conditions. This requires knowledgeable and dedicated staff, and good decision making. My biggest challenge now is making sure that the new facilities we design and build can be operated and meet compliance requirements over the long term, and have the trained staff to operate them.

5. What is the biggest change you’ve seen in your career?

Now we are more than just a wastewater treatment utility. We focus on wastewater as a resource and a comprehensive approach to environmental protection. We produce sustainable byproducts like recycled water, generate electricity, recycle biosolids (soil enhancement and compost), and capture heat from wastewater while focusing on cost and resource efficiencies as part of our core work.