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What is an Operator?

In many ways, operators have one of the best jobs imaginable. Ask yourself these questions and see how an operator would answer them:

Do you want a job that challenges you? 
An operator is one who is always learning, doing something different, researching ideas, solving problems and protecting life.

Do you want to become an investigator?
Operators must learn how to apply investigating techniques to discover the culprit of equipment malfunctions or plant process inefficiencies.

Do you enjoy fixing things that are broken? 
All things eventually break down, so an operator gets to work with an immense variety of equipment and tools in order to fix, replace, rebuild or invent things.

Do you want to work outside, or at a desk, in a laboratory or a mechanical shop? Do you want to work with your hands or with you mind? 
As an operator, you will do all of it.  Your job is to operate a wastewater treatment plant and all that it entails. Each day you may do something different. You will taste what it is like to be a biologist, a chemist, an engineer, a mechanic, a regulator, a landscaper, an analyst, and much more.

Operators are not just workers; we are active participants in a venture that protects public health, and preserves natural resources. We clean, we check, we fix, we investigate and we make decision to ensure the plant and its process is making the best quality of water it can.  We have the opportunity to be always moving, always growing, and always learning.  It is a dirty job that is both physically and mentally demanding, yet rewarding.  There is always a laugh to be had and something new to do.  It is not just a job, it’s a career that one falls in love with in spite of oneself.

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For the Love of Wastewater: Operator Powers Career With Passion

Ben Carver builds an award-winning career at Fairfield-Suisun Sewer District by learning the business, enhancing his skills and training other operators and technicians.

ben_carver_057__mediumBen Carver loves the wastewater industry. As an operator/maintenance technician 5 at the Fairfield-Suisun Sewer District in California, Carver is focused on expanding his knowledge while helping fellow operators develop the skills they need to advance their careers.

After just nine years in the business, Carver has parlayed his passion for wastewater into a senior role at the district’s 23.7 mgd (design) advanced secondary wastewater treatment plant. Sited on 300 acres, the facility operates under reduced flow (14 mgd) due to California’s five-year drought, water conservation measures and the San Francisco Bay Area’s economic doldrums.

Carver, a Fairfield native, is serious about his role in producing clean water for the 41-square-mile area of Solano County that comprises the sewer district. It includes the cities of Fairfield (population 108,000) and Suisun City (28,000) as well as Travis Air Force Base.

Recognizing passion

Beyond kudos from colleagues and supervisors for his dedication to training new and mid-level operations and maintenance technicians, Carver has gained broader recognition. In 2014, he received the Plant Operator of the Year award from the 9,000-member California Water Environment Association (CWEA). Earlier in the year, he won the same award for the CWEA’s Redwood Empire Section.

“It’s nice to have a career filled with accomplishments,” says Carver. “But I can’t take all the credit because it’s really a team effort. Much of the success I’ve had is based on the great people I work with. All 58 sewer district employees, including our 14 treatment plant operators, function as a team to achieve great results for the community, so it’s everybody’s award.”

That assessment draws some pushback from Brian Hawley, operations manager and Carver’s boss for the past six-plus years: “Ben is the new model of an operator. He’s passionate about the wastewater field and our commitment to protect the public and the environment. He’s technically savvy and eager to learn new technologies.”

Early interest

ben_carver_069__largeCarver’s interest in wastewater began when he was 15 and trying to figure out what to do with his life. A family friend who worked for the City of Fairfield Water Department described life at the water plant, leading Carver to look at classes at Solano Community College. The first one he found happened to be about wastewater, so he enrolled and decided to make it his career.

At 18, he volunteered at the Fairfield-Suisun Treatment Plant. After graduating from Vacaville High School in 2005, he landed a job at the plant with contractor United Water. In July 2008 he joined the sewer district, where he has made professional development a priority. From then on, every year, he has advanced his state certification, starting with an operator in training certificate and culminating with Grade V in 2011.

“Wastewater is a wonderful career,” Carver says. “It’s rewarding and something that keeps me constantly motivated. The fact that I always learn something new is one of the big blessings of this profession. I’m never bored, because my job changes all the time. Plus, I’m able to support my family, and there are plenty of opportunities for advancement, so yes, I like what I’m doing a lot.”

Expansion challenges

Almost from the day Carver arrived, the 40-year-old treatment plant has undergone expansions. In 2007-08, a secondary treatment expansion added a biological nutrient removal (BNR) system. The plant converted its old aerobic digesters to aeration basins with anoxic zones, built two new circular clarifiers, and converted a flow equalization tank to an intermediate clarifier.

Another project was a dewatering upgrade in which Carver and his colleagues replaced old filter presses with a screw press (FKC Co.), replaced two dissolved air flotation thickening tanks with gravity belt thickeners, and built a circular primary clarifier to add capacity to four existing rectangular clarifiers. In 2011, the plant switched from chlorine to UV disinfection (WEDECO – a Xylem Brand).

Crews also built a new alternate discharge pump station for discharging effluent to the Suisun Marsh, the largest contiguous brackish-water marsh remaining on the west coast of North America and a critical component of the 116,000-acre San Francisco Bay Delta estuary ecosystem.

Supervising, training

A typical day for Carver runs from 6 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Each day is different, but he usually supervises the morning meetings and briefings from graveyard shift operators, checks the duties for the day, and assigns tasks. Carver supervises the lower-level technicians and provides training when needed.

Training covers wastewater treatment processes, equipment handling, plant maintenance and other aspects of the job, such as maintaining the district’s four main pump stations that deliver wastewater into the plant, nine lift stations and eight stormwater stations throughout the area.

Gary Crawford, a Grade III operator, can attest to Carver’s training expertise. A five-year plant veteran, Crawford came from an academic background and pursued a career at the university level. “The money wasn’t that good and the jobs just weren’t that plentiful, so I made a financial decision not to spend time trying to get published and get tenure for a small salary. I have a wife and wanted to earn a decent living.”

Crawford didn’t know much about wastewater, so Carver trained him, starting with basic treatment procedures and eventually preparing him for certification exams. “Every time I’ve had to take one, I hook up with Ben and we go over the math work,” Crawford says. “Then he walks me through what I need to know. He’s been an enormous help, for the tests and in becoming a skilled operator.”

Hawley praises Carver for making sure the other operators are moving up in their certifications: “Of the 14 operators we have, all but one are Grade III and above. There are five of us with Grade V certification, so we have a highly certified staff.”

Proud to protect

Carver has little time for accolades. He’s too busy doing his job: leading the operations team members as they work on the oxidation towers and dual-media tertiary filtration system, and making sure the solids dewatering processes — screw press and asphalt-lined drying beds — function properly to generate 7 to 8 dry tons of biosolids daily.

He also helps conduct plant tours for elementary, high school and college students, promoting the satisfaction he feels from protecting the area’s fragile ecosystems. That includes reclaiming 10 percent of plant effluent to irrigate turf farms or livestock feed and to replenish ponds for local duck clubs.

Looking ahead, the treatment plant faces stricter nutrient limits from the Regional Water Quality Control Board and the U.S. EPA. Carver relishes the challenge as he continues to improve his skills and look for ways to improve plant operations and efficiency.

“There’s no question that all the plants, including ours, are going to see much stricter limits on nutrients,” he says. “We’re already doing full nitrification and partial nitrogen removal, so we’re a little bit ahead of some plants. As for me, I enjoy my work enough that I’ll keep doing it. In this industry there are so many different avenues to pursue. I’ll stick with it for the rest of my career.”

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Fairfield-Suisun Sewer District Board Approves Agreement to Proceed with Development of a Lystek Organic Materials Recovery Center (OMRC)

Attention: Business, economic, agriculture and environmental reporters/editors

May 19 2015 (Fairfield, California, U.S.A.) – Yesterday, staff of the Fairfield-Suisun Sewer District (FSSD) recommended, and the Board of Directors accepted, the approval of a Resolution to execute a 20-year lease agreement (with an additional 10-year optional renewal) between the FSSD and Lystek International Inc. (Lystek) for the development of an Organic Materials Recovery Center at its Chadbourne Road facility in Fairfield California. The major terms and conditions of the Agreement are effectively complete and both parties look forward to proceeding with project implementation.

“This is an exciting day for all stakeholders”, said Rick Mosher, President of Lystek. “Approval by the Board to move this project forward is the culmination of months of positive discussion and careful consideration of the many, mutual benefits that will be realized by everyone involved in this development. This includes the FSSD, all surrounding communities looking for advanced and proven, Class A quality biosolids and organics management solutions, growers that want/need good, affordable, nutrient rich, bio-fertilizer products as well as those looking for good-paying jobs in the area “, he adds.

It is widely acknowledged that “waste” diversion and resource recovery generate substantial economic and environmental benefits while supporting and expanding the evolution towards a circular economy.

Founded in 2000, Lystek is an award-winning, biosolids and organics management firm that is playing a leadership role in the successful diversion of organic materials from landfills. The firm provides proven solutions that help municipalities and other generators harness “waste” as an economic resource thereby converting wastewater treatment plants into Resource Recovery Centers. This is accomplished by transforming these materials into an organically-based, bio-fertilizer product called LysteGro. The resulting, high nutrient product is pathogen-free and it meets (or exceeds) US EPA, Class A EQ quality standards. LysteGro is already in high demand because pathogens are eliminated and the product is high in nutrients and organic matter and far more cost effective than chemical alternatives. The same, innovative system can also be used to optimize the performance of digesters and BNR systems, while reducing overall volumes and increasing biogas production for green energy. The OMRC will be built under a Design-Build-Finance-Own-Operate (DBFOO) model by Lystek.

FSSD currently produces approximately 12,000 tons of biosolids per year. Under this agreement, the district will have long-term control over its biosolids management expenses. Revenue and expenses will be proportional to the volume of material processed at the OMRC, which will have a maximum operating capacity of approximately 150,000 tons per year. FSSD biosolids management expenses will effectively be capped (except for growth and small, consumer price index increases) with revenues growing as more material is brought into the new facility. Indirect benefits will also be realized by FSSD through the process 2 of re-feeding “LysteMized” material back into its digesters to enhance biogas production for “green energy”) and through reduction in the overall volume of output.

Under the terms of the agreement, Lystek will be responsible for soliciting third party materials to be processed at the new facility as well as all marketing and sales of the LysteGro bio-fertilizer product. As of the issuance of this release, Letters of Interest (LOI’s) have already been secured from several agencies in the Bay Area. Additional LOI’s are forthcoming. These LOI’s are expected to transition into multi-year contracts as the project moves forward.

Greg Baatrup, General Manager of the FSSD states that “This technology is proven and development of this project and facility will play an important role in capping the FSSD’s operational expenses related to biosolids management. It will also help us diversify and achieve our goal of leveraging existing, underutilized infrastructure to generate additional revenues, further offsetting costs for the district.”

“The FSSD Board of Directors is extremely proud of the track record of success at the FSSD and pleased with staff accomplishments “ said Pete Sanchez, President of the FSSD Board of Directors. “We look forward to the positive benefits this partnership with Lystek brings to the communities of Fairfield, Suisun City, Solano County and the entire Bay Area,” he adds.

About Lystek International

Lystek International Inc. is an organic materials recovery firm that is helping municipalities and other generators reduce waste, costs, odors and greenhouse gas emissions through its innovative approach to biosolids and organics management. The multi-use Lystek system can be leveraged to optimize digesters and biological nutrient removal systems while also contributing to landfill diversion and agricultural sustainability. This is achieved by transforming non-hazardous, organic materials into nutrient-rich, federally-registered fertilizers and other, multi-purpose products.

For more information please contact Kevin Litwiller, Director of Business Development, at; Cell: (519) 584- 5437 or Office: (226) 444-0186 x 106 or by email at;

Fairfield-Suisun Sewer District

The Fairfield-Suisun Sewer District is a legally constituted governmental entity established to provide wastewater services to the Cities of Fairfield and Suisun City. FSSD serves more than 135,000 residential, commercial and industrial customers and government agencies in central Solano County, about 40 miles northeast of San Francisco. Households, retail businesses, major food and beverage producers, light industries, manufacturers and vital military operations depend upon our service. The treatment plant occupies about 150 acres. It draws from a collection system that consists of 12 pump stations and a 70- mile network of sewers that fan out throughout our service area.

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