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WTD Updates

Using the challenges of 2020 to improve our services

By December 8, 2020December 22nd, 2020No Comments

When local closures began in the spring of 2020 due to COVID-19, our utility’s employees quickly adapted to assure our essential services to the public continued. We also moved many of our interactions with the public online – such as meetings and educational classes.

Keeping our operators healthy so we can protect YOUR health

King County Wastewater Treatment Division treats wastewater from people and businesses to protect public and environmental health. We operate three regional treatment plants, two local treatment plants, and four wet weather treatment plants. We treat an average of 175 million gallons of sewage every day.

Our operations staff are as vital to the pandemic response as police and fire responders. They are on the front line of public safety and do their jobs 24/7.

Wastewater operator checks equipment

Like other critical government workers, they can’t do their jobs from home, so they adjusted many of their ways of working during this crisis in order to protect their own health and prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

All staff maintain safe, six-foot distances when interacting with co-workers – and we’ve shifted how we work to make that easier.

For example: Usually, full night and day crews meet at shift changes to discuss plant operations, so that information is relayed to the oncoming crew. To reduce risks, now only the shift supervisors meet for this information exchange and those supervisors will maintain a distance of at least six feet from each other. The shift supervisor knows everything going on in his/her area. It’s also important to note that the oncoming operator can see where everything’s set on computer controls, so only anything out-of-the-usual needs to be passed on by the previous crew.

All our mechanics and electricians have their own set of tools, so we don’t need to worry about cleaning between uses. They all have their own carts and vehicles. Not many of our pool vehicles are being used right now, but they are cleaned before and after use – and there’s no carpooling.

All the measures that are pervasive in society right now – we’re doing. Many of these things we’ve always been doing because we work in an environment that has bacteria and viruses. Our operations staff are trained in proper protocols and protective equipment. Wastewater operators have a common joke that we wash our hands BEFORE we go to the bathroom.

Like many other places, we’re doing extra cleaning at our treatment plants and other facilities. We have an early morning and afternoon disinfectant cleaning of all shared surfaces – including tables, desks, computer keyboards and mice, doorknobs, etc.

The proof is in the results: The rate our staff calls in sick has been really low.

Helping families and teachers virtually with free classes and tours

When local schools began closing in March due to COVID-19, our utility’s education team quickly adapted the normal in-person field trips to live, virtual programs.

kids learning from home

“First we sent out surveys to teachers to find out what they needed – and how best to support them,” explained Susan Tallarico, Education Supervisor.

“From this feedback, we created new curriculum that could still be hands-on and engaging in an online format”, she said. “We began piloting the programs in May to school classes and families at home. The programs use water as a way for students to learn about real world problems and solutions.”

“The kids learned a lot, but I did too,” said one parent. “I was listening in while doing other things in the kitchen and learned what we can do to help the environment – I am changing our household cleaners and telling everyone not to use flushable wipes. We even looked up fatbergs as suggested. GROSS! Great class!”

Using lessons learned and evaluation feedback from the spring pilot programs, the education team developed a series of virtual programs for K-12 classes for the 2020-21 school year.

Schools can choose from a catalog of lessons, up to six sessions, that explore the impacts that humans have on water. Participants will explore King County sewer and stormwater systems, take a virtual treatment plant tour, carry out hands-on investigations, and learn how to become stewards of their water.

Videotaped versions of our core programs and tours of the treatment plants will be available for individual families or teachers who do not need live sessions. Programs also include pre-lesson activities for students to complete on their own, as well as optional activities to deepen student’s understanding and to connect additional subject areas.

Helping those with disabilities participate in public meetings

Navigating the pandemic is difficult – but not the same for everyone. We wanted to assure that our virtual public meetings are accessible to those with disabilities.

We partnered with Rooted in Rights on a video with tips to make virtual meetings accessible for everyone.

Accessibility video

Remote interactions are a lifeline in this challenging time. Telework, remote visits with family, virtual tours, and online community engagement connect us with others while protecting our health.

This same technology provides real benefits for people living with disabilities. Suddenly, transportation is not a barrier to attending a meeting or social event. Adaptive technologies help people with sensory impairments hear and see others.

Even if people with disabilities can get to our meetings, as hosts we need to consider everything they might need to participate. Odd noises, distractions, and technical glitches may make great comedy show skits – and high energy webinars with lots of chat and dazzling visuals may seem like a great goal for engaging the audience. But online quirks and flashy presentations can make remote meetings inaccessible and less engaging for some audience members.

Labeling your Zoom account with your full name, providing real-time captioning, meeting notes, and American Sign Language interpreters are just some of the things you can do to help people participate.