Often, wastewater treatment services remain out-of-sight and out-of-mind. But 12-year-old Cameron Weeks sought to change that when he decided to learn about local wastewater operators for a school project.
Thanking operators for a job well done
The seventh-grade Medlin Middle School (Roanoke, Texas) student received an assignment in his language arts class to demonstrate empathy for a chosen person or figure. Students were asked to learn more about this person or figure and give a presentation showing his or her observations. Cameron chose to focus on the operators at Denton Creek Regional Wastewater System (DCRWS; Roanoke), a facility of the Trinity River Authority of Texas (TRA; Arlington).
Cameron’s mom, Mary Weeks, helped her son set up an appointment to tour DCRWS. “Cameron’s visit was designed to learn more about the work done there,” she said. These operators work hard 24 hours a day and outdoors in all types of weather, but most often receive complaints rather than praise. “He wanted to shine a light and show appreciation,” Mary said.
The Weeks family lives a few hundred yards from DCRWS. Occasionally, residents will notice a slight odor from the facility, but many do not balance this minor inconvenience with the value of the services the facility provides. While Cameron’s classmates were reaching out to show appreciation to police, fire, and medical professionals, he decided to recognize the DCRWS staff’s efforts to clean water, a vital community resource.
“I thought this was a very kind gesture and proof that our efforts in public outreach are having a positive effect on the communities we serve,” said John Bennett, plant manager for DCRWS.
An eye-opening tour of a water resource recovery facility
Bennett gave Cameron and Mary a tour of the facility. He showed them a map of the collections system and identified the 11 cities that DCRWS serves. He also discussed the importance of wastewater treatment for the environment and community, warned about items that citizens should never put down a drain or toilet, and explained how the facility’s 15 staff members are caretakers for billions of bacteria that biologically treat wastewater. During a walking tour of the various treatment trains, Bennett said he educated the pair about the initiatives DCRWS has undertaken to mitigate the effects of odors, noise, and light pollution on the neighbors.
Cameron learned that there are many different types of jobs involved in wastewater treatment, from administrator to microbiologist to engineer to plumber, Mary said. “He was surprised to learn that bacteria were part of the process for cleaning the water; also he had no idea how much time and effort and money went into controlling the odor following the process, [or] how much effort the team really spent to try and not bother the neighbors.”
To Bennett, this experience proves that the water sector’s efforts in the area of public education are paying off and reaching a much younger generation than ever before, which could help water conservation and water sector jobs in the future.
“I am extremely proud of what my staff and I do for the environment on a daily basis,” Bennett said. “I want to be known as the manager of a facility that treats wastewater as efficiently and effectively as possible, and it is fulfilling to know that …those involved with the treatment process are being recognized for their efforts to make this happen.”
Spreading the message to the rest of the community
Cameron brought cookies to thank the DCRWS staff. He also took a picture with two of the DCRWS operators who belong to the Operations Challenge team, TRA Waste Warriors, which placed third in Division 2 of the annual competition at WEFTEC 2016.
For Andrew Moore, DCRWS senior operator and coach of the TRA Waste Warriors, the timing of Cameron’s visit was perfect. “Having our neighbors across the fence-line thinking of the wastewater treatment plant operator during the holidays makes it easy to come to work during the season, knowing our jobs are important to the communities we serve.”
After his visit, the middle school student created and shared a 3-minute slideshow with his class. He included his thoughts about the visit, observations about the work at DCRWS, and photos from the tour. “He wanted to demonstrate … that the operators at the plant should be praised and appreciated, and we should understand how hard they work,” his mother said.
— Jennifer Fulcher, WEF Highlights