For Washington state, 2010 was a record-breaking year—at least in the world of wastewater treatment.
About a third of the state’s treatment facilities had perfect compliance records. And in response, the Washington Department of Ecology recently awarded those 103 facilities with the Outstanding Wastewater Treatment Plant Awards. That’s 11 more award-winning plants than won in 2009.
To earn these awards, plants must pass all environmental tests, analyze all samples, turn in all state-required reports and avoid all permit violations.
These awards are purely a form of recognition, a pat on the back. Each winning plant gets a plaque. But the workers at these pristine facilities also get to boast a bit.
Especially the workers at the Manchester Treatment Plant in Kitsap County. Theirs is the only plant in the state with a 16-year winning streak.“The operators that run the plant are quite proud of their accomplishment. And we’re grateful for how seriously they take their work,” said Stella Vakarcs, senior program manager for the Wastewater Division of Kitsap County.
These awards create a culture of competition, said Sandy Howard, communications officer for the Washington Department of Ecology.
“The awards motivate wastewater workers to be extra diligent,” Howard said. “The Department of Ecology is a regulator, but we don’t want to always focus on the negative. This program takes more of the carrot versus the stick approach. And it’s been very successful.”
Since the program started in 1995, the number of plants earning the awards has grown tremendously. From 14 plants in 1995 to 104 plants in 2010. Here’s a chart that shows the increase.
Still, about two-thirds of Washington’s wastewater plants didn’t earn the award – and among them are some of the state’s largest facilities.
West Point Treatment Plant, the state’s largest wastewater facility, has never won one of these awards. West Point is a 32-acre plant on the shores of Puget Sound located in Seattle’s Magnolia neighborhood. And it’s one of the two main wastewater treatment plants for the Seattle metropolitan area. The average capacity of the plant is 212 million gallons per day.
The South Wastewater Treatment Plant in Renton is King County’s other main wastewater facility and it was recognized once for perfect compliance—in 1995.
According to Howard, it’s difficult to say whether it’s easier for smaller treatment facilities to earn one of these awards. Most small facilities don’t have automated systems to rely on like the larger operations do. But smaller facilities have half as many tests to perform and dramatically less volume.
For example the Manchester plant, which serves the area’s approximately 5,000 residents, treats about 70 million gallons of wastewater a year, compared to West Point, which processes three times that every day.
For more information, including a complete list by county of the state’s awarding-winning wastewater treatment plants for 2010, go to: www.ecy.wa.gov/programs/wq/wastewater/op_cert/kudos.html