By Troy Larson
The fundamentals are still the fundamentals…or are they?
Fall conference season featured as much unique information as I can remember. We spend more time talking about side stream treatment, nitrogen shunts, algae treatment, and struvite harvesting each year. Many of these and other emerging technologies aren’t reflected in operation certification exams and in many cases are counter intuitive if studying the basics. No longer can you just assume that an activated sludge facility should be operated at a dissolved oxygen concentration of 2 mg/L. Aeration strategies are just one of the operation techniques that are getting studied and manipulated to test theories geared towards improving energy utilization and process efficiencies. Organisms historically linked to important tasks like phosphorus and nitrogen removal are no longer the only “critter” for the job, and they may not even be the best.
So how do you get your bearings if operating or evaluating facilities in an era of advancement like the one we are in? How do regulators apply previously established standards to emerging techniques designed to outperform the previously accepted minimums and maximums required of a design? Perhaps, that is where the fundamentals related to monitoring and data collection are more important than ever. Data and trends collected and organized to confirm cause and effect relationships might be more important than it has been in decades. Emerging analytics and new processes will benefit greatly from having data that can validate and explain the techniques that are being employed. Early adopters will gain understanding and will almost certainly isolate issues that can then be addressed. Those later into the mix will benefit from gained experience.
Few like having a black box where you simply hope for performance; we want the ability to control the outcome and this takes information that we do not always have. Just as we are in an era of development, we are also in an era of shrinking staff sizes and reduced monitoring. Managers need to avoid too much streamlining in the lab, particularly of personnel dedicated to monitoring processes. I hear all the time that facilitates have fewer people than they used to, and they do less monitoring and data interpretation as a result. This is unfortunate for many reasons: operators are not as informed, engineering assistance is hampered, and sharing stories amongst facilities is handicapped. Many discoveries in ours and other industries came by accident, but not without being observed.
Ours is an industry that benefits greatly from scientific fundamentals. Scientific fundamentals would involve rigorous observation, development of theories, testing the validity and repeatability of these theories and, ultimately, sharing of the information collected. As an industry, we need to resist relaxing our data collection and process control monitoring to a point where we are no longer current with the flurry of improvements and advances.
Professional organization activities like those offered by CSWEA are a great way to share information. At any of our seminars and workshops you might find educators, engineers, operators, regulators, and manufacturers. Collaborative “bull sessions” and prepared presentations aid in the communication of these emerging ideas that, in many cases, will improve our industry.
As far as the fundamentals, it is clear to me that we will be rewriting text books to update the use of control parameters and our codes will get challenged to accommodate proven innovative ideas. If we follow scientific fundamentals in the process, we will take our industry to the next level of performance and efficiency. Thank you to the regular contributors of CSWEA for your generous sharing of knowledge and experience that moves us forward!