Kyle Scott, 35, has worked at the Aberdeen wastewater treatment plant for much of his career. He was promoted to manager in January of 2008 at the age of 29. He and his wife Angela have three girls, and their families are all “multi-generational” Harborites. He strives for a day when funding for plant improvements will allow for elimination of toxic gases. He also would like to see improvements made in the city’s treatment process so the plant could generate bio-solids that could be used as fertilizer by commercial and residential “end-users.”
The computer system used by the Aberdeen wastewater treatment plant allows you and your crew to monitor the system at any time of the day or night. How has this technology changed the way you do business?
Foremost, remote monitoring of the system helps us with efficiency. We have a staff of 15 employees including myself who are tasked with the operation and maintenance of the city’s wastewater treatment plant, wastewater collection system and portions of the stormwater collection system. Each of these systems operate 24 hours per day, 365 days per year. As you can imagine, when we have a failure of some type, the repercussions aren’t pleasant. A failure at the treatment plant could lead to water quality issues in the Chehalis estuary, a failure in our wastewater collection system would likely lead to a raw sewage overflow from a manhole and/or a rate payer’s residence, and a failure in a stormwater system can lead to flooding. We simply don’t have the manpower to be physically present every where we need to be all hours of the day. Because of this we have placed a great emphasis on improving and expending our ability to utilize technology to keep an eye on things for us. Hopefully the days of finding out about a problem after it is already too late are behind us.
You have a sizable fish tank in the lobby filled with swimming fish in clear water that has been treated as well as plants growing in bio-solids in the lab. What message are you trying to convey with these displays?
We put a great deal of effort in to discharging clean water in the Chehalis River. Unfortunately, I think the majority of our efforts go unnoticed, most people flush the toilet, shower, etc., and don’t give a second thought to where that water goes and what happens to it. Also, nobody can see the water we treat because it’s discharged on the edge of the shipping channel at the bottom of the Chehalis River. The water in the fish tank is taken directly from the treated water before we discharge into the river. As for the bio-solids, they are a by-product of the treatment process, and make for wonderful fertilizer. We currently don’t treat ours to the levels required for it to be used by an end user. So the plants we grow, while thriving, have to stay at the plant. The idea with both is to help illustrate that we can be good stewards of the environment and provide a by-product which is suitable for beneficial reuse.
The process at the plant, which has been upgraded but dates back several decades, still uses sulfur dioxide and chlorine gas. What safeguards are in place? Does this keep you up at night?
Chlorine gas and sulfur dioxide gas are very common chemicals in the wastewater and water treatment industry. Both are also highly toxic and accordingly highly regulated in terms of rules for storage and operation. We have a number of safeguards in place. The tanks which the gases are stored in are vendor maintained and are held to strict regulatory standards. The building where the chemicals are stored and applied includes many operational safeguards, from design standards to leak detection devices. We can detect even the smallest of chlorine or sulfur dioxide gas leaks and are notified immediately via audible alarm and, automated phone notification. Each of our employees who are required to interact with the gases as part of their job undergo training on a continual basis. We have been using chlorine gas for over 30 years without incident. Thousand of plants worldwide use chlorine gas without incident every day. That being said, I cannot wait for the day when improvements to our process allow for the removal of the gas from our community.
Some treatment plants are now able to process and sell bio-solids safe enough for use s fertilizer. What would it take to get to that point in Aberdeen? How much would that cost?
We will need to make some improvements to our bio-solids treatment process to achieve the necessary treatment required to do that. There are numerous avenues we could pursue to achieve this objective, but any solution would come along with a significant capital expenditure. We are currently in the process of deciding the most appropriate choice to meet our needs. Like any other decision, we need to balance need versus want, the potential return on our investment and whether we should incorporate additional projects into this one. Conservatively, I would estimate a $200,000 investment would allow us to make the necessary improvements.
What common substances tossed in to toilets would you like removed because it clogs the system? Do you have a quick guideline people can go by?
That’s going to be a pretty long list. The industry standard for what should be flushed is the three P’s. The first P, is for paper, toilet or tissue. The other two P’s, I’m sure everyone can guess. There are numerous items which cause us trouble, some of the most common include: fats, oils and grease from food waste, diaper wipes, cleaning wipes, feminine hygiene products, condoms, q-tips, and syringes. Also, there is a growing market of so called flush-able products. I’d just like to clarify that their definition of flush-able essentially means the product is designed to be flushed down your toilet, very little consideration is given to the impact on downstream processes.
You are a fifth generation Harborite, with sixth generation children. What does that mean to you?
Both my family and my wife’s family are multi-generational Harborites. Grays Harbor is home to a lot of memories for our families. I was born at Community Hospital, and with the exception of a couple years of college, have lived my entire life in Aberdeen. This community has played a huge part in the shaping of my life. One of the parts I enjoy most about my job is the opportunity to contribute to a service from which the entire community benefits.
You began your career at the wastewater treatment plant in your early 20s, literally shoveling stuff. You were promoted to manager in January of 2008, at age 29. What has that rapid rise through the ranks taught you?
Perspective. I spent the first six years of my career working as a treatment plant operator, I’ve spent the last six working as the plant manager. My time spent as a plant operator allowed me to gain the experience necessary to understand the day to day requirements of operating and maintaining the city’s wastewater system. That experience was invaluable when I transitioned into the manager position. I spend the majority of my time working in the bigger picture now. The day to day operation and maintenance of the systems are successful because of the efforts of my staff. I can’t emphasize enough that we have a lot of really talented people working at the sewer department.
Even if Aberdeen doesn’t grow any larger, how long is the system adequate?
The original wastewater treatment plant was constructed in the 1950s, some components of this plant are still in service. A significant expansion was made to the plant in the late 1970s, virtually all of these components are still in service. Other major additions and retrofits were completed in 1990 and 2004. Essentially, the treatment plant is a collection of aging infrastructure which over time has been retrofitted with modern upgrades. Short of deciding to abandon the current plant and build a new one, we will remain in the current cycle of retrofitting and replacing infrastructure on a continual basis. As for the wastewater collection system, the majority of system piping was replaced in the late 1970s. The bulk of this replacement was done with PVC pipe, which in theory should last another 30 years, if not longer. There are still sections of old system which have now been in service for 60 plus years. Much of the old system is flawed in some way. As of now, we choose to increase preventative maintenance cycles to maintain functionality.
If you could invite whomever you wanted to dinner, living or dead, who would that be?
That’s really a very difficult question. I enjoy political satire, so I’m thinking a table with Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, and Tina Fey would make for an entertaining evening.