By Pat Jenkins
The Dispatch
In a business of dirty work, Eatonville’s wastewater treatment plant is simply one of the best.
For the 10th year in a row, the plant ranked as one of the top performers in Washington when the state Department of Ecology handed out its awards for wastewater handling. Eatonville is one of only 10 facilities on such a winning streak.
The award, which Mayor Mike Schaub acknowledged at a Town Council meeting Jan. 9, is for achieving perfect compliance with water-quality standards. Only about a third – 119 in all -- of the wastewater treatment plants statewide pulled that off.
One of them was another facility in south Pierce County – the plant at Alder Lake Park, a first-time award winner. It’s operated by Tacoma Public Utilities.
Not much thought is given by most people to where the dirty water goes when they flush a toilet or drain a sink. That’s the job of wastewater plants, which Department of Ecology (DOE) officials call the first line of defense for public health and clean water. The state’s Wastewater Treatment Plant Outstanding Performance Award gives recognition where recognition is due.
“We appreciate the extraordinary level of effort plant operators demonstrated throughout 2015,” the year’s work on which the latest awards are based, said Heather Bartlett, the manager of DOE’s water -quality program. “Talented and proficient operators are critical to successful plant operations and protecting the health of Washington’s water.”
Plants like the ones for Eatonville and Alder Lake Park are evaluated on how well they meet pollution limits and monitoring and reporting requirements, as well as spill-prevention planning and pre-treatment of waste
Joining Eatonville as award winners for 10 consecutive years are five other plants. Two are in Pierce County (Tacoma and Gig Harbor). The others are in Kitsap County, Island County and Klickitat County.
Eatonville’s plant processes about 275,000 gallons of sewage each day. It removes ammonia, nitrates and biosolids.
When the DOE began issuing awards in 1995, only 14 treatment plants statewise qualified with perfect performance marks. The rise from that relatively humble number to the 119 honorees for 2016 can be attributed to state funding that helps municipalities upgrade their aging systems so they can operate more efficiently, officials said.
DOE reported last October that it recently offered $96 million in grants and loans for 26 wastewater treatment facility projects. The agency also provides technical assistance to many small plants.
DOE notes that wastewater treatment, because of the increasing need for it in response to Washington’s ever-growing population, is a worthy career. The department has a wastewater operator certification program for aspiring plant professionals.
“We encourage people to go into this field, because there are jobs to be had,” Bartlett said.