While “I work with wastewater” isn’t exactly a picturesque high school reunion conversation starter, you’ll be hard pressed to find a King County Wastewater Treatment Division (WTD) employee abashed by the subject matter. It’s a common theme that once you start a career with WTD, you tend to not want to leave. “I was here for all of a week before I thought, ‘I think I’m going to stay here forever. Until they escort me out,’” Wade Shaw, plant operator, said.
While you might think only men would be interested in the wastewater industry, WTD is filled with talented and dedicated women across all positions. “It’s fulfilling for me to take part in maintaining a seemingly invisible system that people utilize every day without even realizing it, “ Sonia-Lynn Abenojar, capital project manager, said.
“It’s obvious to me that people love what they do here because we all understand the role we play in the broader mission of improving water quality for our communities in the greater Puget Sound.”
And not only do the treatment plants at King County Wastewater Division win awards, but our employees do too.
Here are two women working at WTD who have recently received recognition for their innovation and engagement.
With over 20 years in the water quality industry, Suzanne Potts, process laboratory specialist, has garnered the reputation of going “beyond the call of duty.” From mentoring new staff to being the go-to person for key projects like a Laboratory Information Management System update, she’s recognized as a role model not only for the laboratory, but for the entire utility. This is apparent by a recent award she received after being nominated by five of her co-workers.
“She keeps me on my toes. Sometimes when I just cannot see a solution to a problem, she’ll come up with something from a completely different perspective,” Teresa Allen, process chief analyst, said.
As a member of the WTD Poofighters team, Suzanne Potts competed in the 2016 WEFTEC Operations Challenge. The events are often physical, real-life-simulated events, which are timed and scrutinized by judges. She got 100 percent on the Collections test, which requires a team member to identify pipe fractures, cracks, and corrosion in a collection system. She also correctly labeled what she saw on sewer inspection video footage with official NASSCO pipeline assessment certification program coding.
“For someone who spends all her time in the lab, a perfect score shows how hard she worked to become familiar with pipe assessment,” Chad Clay, plant operator and Poofighters teammate, said.
The seemingly easy task of opening a hand-wheel valve can become a laborious effort when that valve is located inconveniently at the bottom of a sediment tank. Entry requires two people, confined space training, permits, a ladder, and an air quality monitor.
Cheryl Read, operations supervisor, took note of these inefficiencies and proposed a simple, yet inventive solution for one such valve; rotate it by 90 degrees. As part of the wastewater treatment process, this valve drains liquids out of the clarifier and into a disinfection container.
Industrial maintenance mechanics Marvin Romack and Dalen McMichael were quick to lend a hand and reposition the equipment. By rotating the valve and connecting a long rod upward to the surface, it can now be reached from the outside using a standard “T” wrench, eliminating the need for excessive training, specialized equipment, and a person on standby.
A job that once took an hour, not including the paper trail it required, now only takes 5 minutes. And it’s a lot safer: there is a reason so much process is needed for confined space entry. There are a total of 27 similar tanks at South Treatment Plant, 24 of which have received the same fix so far.
Cheryl’s idea recently earned her a “Danger Dodger” WEFTEC Ingenuity Award by the Water Environment Federation (WEF) for innovative water professionals who use what they have on hand and a little bit of ingenuity to creatively solve persistent challenges.
While Cheryl is modest about her achievement and gives credit to Marvin and Dalen, we applaud her suggestion for this “Bright Idea” to make the complex simple. She is improving safety for her coworkers and stretching ratepayers’ investments in the wastewater system.
These are just two of the many hard-working, dedicated people who devote their careers to help maintain our quality of life, public health, and our environment. We’re glad that the industry recognizes their value, too.