Spreading the Reach of Operations Challenge

January 31, 2018

Featured

Orren West rises through the ranks while contributing to the competition

Orren West (second from left) was coach of the Division 1 team, Elevated Ops, which placed second in the Godwin Maintenance Event at WEFTEC 2017. Other team members included, from left, Kelsey Gedge, Lance Wenholz, Matt Duncan, and Josh Mallorey. Photo courtesy of Kieffer Photography.

Orren West (second from left) was coach of the Division 1 team, Elevated Ops, which placed second in the Godwin Maintenance Event at WEFTEC 2017. Other team members included, from left, Kelsey Gedge, Lance Wenholz, Matt Duncan, and Josh Mallorey. Photo courtesy of Kieffer Photography.

Orren West Jr. believes in Operations Challenge. Staying involved in the competition has helped him rise through the ranks in his career, an experience West wants to pass along to his fellow operators.

“I have experienced, personally, professional growth through Ops Challenge, and I wanted that opportunity for my coworkers,” West said. “I’m very passionate about it.”

Building Operations Challenge in Colorado

In 2012, West moved from Texas to Colorado to become superintendent of the Metro Wastewater Reclamation District (Denver) Northern Treatment Plant, an advanced biological nutrient removal facility. Soon after arriving he joined the Rocky Mountain Water Environment Association (WEA) Operations Challenge committee to help promote Operations Challenge within the Water Environment Federation (WEF; Alexandria, Va.) Member Association. He even convinced management at his district to start a team.

West (fifth from left) watches over his team, Elevated Ops, as they compete in the Process Control Event at WEFTEC 2017. Photo courtesy of Kieffer Photography.

West (fifth from left) watches over his team, Elevated Ops, as they compete in the Process Control Event at WEFTEC 2017. Photo courtesy of Kieffer Photography.

In 2015, West coached the Metro Wastewater Reclamation District’s first team. The team participated in both the state and national Operations Challenge competitions. The program’s success encouraged the district to form two teams in 2016; West coached both, and one  finished first in Division 2 during the national competition at WEFTEC 2016. At WEFTEC 2017, West was coach of the district’s top team, Elevated Ops, which moved up to Division 1. The second team also made it to WEFTEC 2017. “I would say that it’s been a pretty successful startup for the utility,” he said.     

Participating sharpens skills and contributes to careers

At WEFTEC 2003 in Los Angeles, West (third from left) competed on the Water Environment Association of Texas team, Dillo XXpress. Other team member, from left, included David Barker, David Barber, and Ellery Studivant. Photo courtesy of West.

At WEFTEC 2003 in Los Angeles, West (third from left) competed on the Water Environment Association of Texas team, Dillo XXpress. Other team member, from left, included David Barker, David Barber, and Ellery Studivant. Photo courtesy of West.

West first became involved in the competition in 1998 while working as an A-license operator at the Austin (Texas) Water Utility. He became an operations and maintenance (O&M) supervisor and then the superintendent at the utility. Eventually, he became the division manager for three of Austin’s large water resource recovery facilities. On the way up the ladder, he came to serve as an Operations Challenge team coach and then as co-chair of the Water Environment Association of Texas Operations Challenge committee.

“The extra training and studying for Ops Challenge was huge to my success,” West said, adding that preparation for the competition’s Process Control and Laboratory events was especially helpful. “I believe [preparing for these events] is huge for just keeping an operator sharp on their technical skills.” And the other physical events help improve mechanical aptitude, he said.

Memories that last a lifetime

West has participated in Operations Challenge for 19 of its 30 years. He has seen growth in the number of teams involved and watched these teams become more competitive. Experience in the competition also has expanded his professional network. He now has a group of professionals that can answer technical questions or provide feedback on an installation or facility upgrade. He uses these contacts, and they call on him in return, he said.

West (third from left) most fondly remembers when his team Elevated Ops won first place in Division 2 at WEFTEC 2016. Team members stand with event organizers with their first-place award. Photo courtesy of Kieffer Photography.

West (third from left) most fondly remembers when his team Elevated Ops won first place in Division 2 at WEFTEC 2016. Team members stand with event organizers with their first-place award. Photo courtesy of Kieffer Photography.

But West’s favorite memory is when Elevated Ops won first place in Division 2 at WEFTEC 2016. “I’m a very quiet and reserved person,” he said. But during the awards ceremony when they announced that the team won, “I jumped out of my chair and yelled.”

Seeing hard-work pay off for a team that has the right combination of competitors is something he will never forget.

Learn more about the 2017 Operations Challenge in a WEF Highlights photo gallery and a section in the December issue of WE&T.

— Jennifer Fulcher, WEF Highlights

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