For nearly 20 years, TEEX has been helping small municipal wastewater treatment plants improve performance and achieve and maintain regulatory compliance through the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Operator Outreach Assistance 104g program. The goal of the program is to provide financial, technical, operation and maintenance assistance to these small treatment plants through free, on-site operator training.
TEEX instructors help communities address the issues that directly affect compliance in small treatment plants, which include inadequately trained operators, large staff turnover rates, low operating budgets and low staff salaries.
The TEEX Engineering, Utilities and Public Works Training Institute is the only agent in Texas for the 104g program. From 80 percent to 90 percent of the systems enrolled in the program typically return to compliance within one year, according to program manager Paul Muraca. Last year was one of the more successful years, with 99 percent of the systems participating in the program returning to compliance, he said.
“The program is designed for systems with operational problems of some sort,” said Mark Goad, assistant training specialist and coordinator of the program. “In many cases, the entities are referred to TEEX by the Texas Natural Resources Conservation Commission field investigator performing their annual inspection. Once a contact is made, officials must complete a survey questionnaire about the entity, their discharge permit, type of treatment plant and specific problems.”
Plants eligible for assistance must have a flow rate of no more than 5 million gallons a day. Once enrolled in the program, a system may receive several “assistance visits” during which the TEEX instructor may perform activities ranging from operations diagnoses to operator training. In fact, TEEX instructors frequently play a dual role in this program; they serve both as a technical trouble-shooter and as a trainer.
“By far, the No. 1 problem of the current accounts on the program is infiltration/inflow in the wastewater collection system,” said Goad. In most instances, these problems often result from inadequately designed or constructed manholes, unauthorized system connections (residential roof drains), or unknown collection system line breaks by other utility companies (telephone, electric, cable TV, etc.). TEEX can help the operator to identify these and other problems by performing “system integrity tests” (smoke testing) and visual inspections.
Muraca, Goad and Richard Harbuck of TEEX currently handle 10 entities—eight are small towns and two are schools. But Muraca anticipates expanding the program to handle many more systems per year.
Goad said that the goal is to expand the visibility and capability of the program by establishing a “network” of on-site trainers across the state. Since TEEX instructors already cover the state while providing water and wastewater training classes, this is an excellent opportunity to combine efforts and draw on their expertise to provide outreach training to all small community systems.