CHALLENGE: Simultaneous system upgrades to reclaim wastewater and avoid regulatory fines
OWNER: City of Inverness, Fla.
CONTRACT OPERATOR: Woodard & Curran Inc., Portland, Maine
TERMS: 5 years at $1.6 million/year; reviewed and amended annually to accommodate treatment chemicals pricing

One way to tackle complexity is to expand resources. That's what the City of Inverness, Fla., did when faced with having to start up a new wastewater reclamation facility, resolve a drinking water consent order, and re-tool the asset management strategy for 32 wastewater pumping stations within 18 months.

Inverness had engineering and design plans to upgrade its secondary treatment facility into an electronically controlled, tertiary-treatment facility that produces effluent acceptable for public reuse. While more states are urging utilities to reclaim rather than discharge treated effluent, Florida is somewhat unique in its mission to reuse as much treated wastewater as possible.

City Manager Frank DiGiovanni wanted to ensure service wouldn't be disrupted during construction and the system would operate as intended. He also wanted to add depth to his utilities team and expand their expertise. He brought in Woodard & Curran Inc., a national consulting and operations firm that, among other services, provides technical support to start up and operate advanced biological nutrient removal facilities. “Our plan was to utilize the latest treatment technologies to produce high-quality reusable water,” he says. “We wanted to establish a partnership that would provide us with a team of skilled professionals who routinely operate these types of facilities. It was important to us to find a firm that could engage quickly and mesh with our staff.”

Contract operators face significant challenges, not the least of which is instilling a new working culture with former community employees who join the firm to form the operations team. “Regarding a contract service provider as a hostile presence diminishes the arrangement's value for both parties,” DiGiovanni says. “We expect a service provider to make those individuals better operators, design a career path for them, and utilize their skills in new or different ways.”

Luckily, DiGiovanni meant what he said.

My project management team was expected to attend weekly city staff meetings, provide updates, offer recommendations, and proactively contribute to capital planning efforts as the new wastewater reclamation facility underwent construction.

City employees were encouraged to interview with Woodard & Curran for specific utility positions. Five employees made the transition, bringing with them valuable institutional knowledge. Three additional staff members were hired and a Woodard & Curran project manager rounded out the new team. No jobs were lost.