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Above: Mobile technology permits BCDES employees to access the department's computer system from the field. Photo: Pat Brown. Below: Wastewater treatment process modeling helped the BCDES craft an appropriate, cost-effective plan to expand its Upper Mill Creek Water Reclamation Facility. Photo: Michael Lee

Butler County sits in southwestern Ohio on Interstate 75. Its population of 339,828 ranks it as the eighth largest county in the state, and its current expansion boom is expected to continue for decades to come. Facing such significant sustained growth, the Butler County Department of Environmental Services (BCDES) has its work cut out. Through innovative business and management practices, open communication, and adaptation of new technology, BCDES provides water and sewer service to its customers efficiently and cost-effectively.

One of the most notable projects the BCDES recently tackled demonstrated the department's commitment to employing the latest technology and encouraging widespread input. The Upper Mill Creek Water Reclamation Facility was built in 1980 with a 4-mgd capacity and a rotating biological contactor. Rapid growth in its service area necessitated expansion over the next two decades. By the end of the century, through the addition of oxidation ditches, the facility's capacity had been boosted to 16 mgd. However, National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit requirements for nitrite and nitrate—set to take effect Jan. 31, 2006—required further changes.

In 2003, the BCDES engaged a team of engineering consultants to craft a plan that would improve sludge handling, correct operational problems, install a new centrifuge, construct biological nutrient removal tanks, and add clarifiers to accommodate peak flow rates. The overall project—which will reach completion in the first quarter of 2006—cost $13 million, including design and construction management. Through process modeling, the design team determined the biological nutrient removal tanks could be decreased in sized, saving an estimated $750,000. In addition, BCDES personnel—in order to ensure the resulting design would meet department requirements—oversaw and consulted throughout the design process.

“The county believes in total involvement in the planning, design, and implementation of a project,” said Michael J. Foley, chief engineer. “It is not just given to a consultant and the results accepted.”

Soliciting input and communication is something that BCDES managers feel enhances results, and they encourage it at all levels in their day-to-day operations. “Our engineering team is special because they know and value the input from operations staff,” said Susan E. Vance, director of BCDES. “Because of this, we have efficiently engineered plants, pumping stations, and other infrastructure that can be operated as designed.”

BCDES also believes in open communication with its constituents, frequently inviting interested parties to focus groups. “Focus groups give us the opportunity to gain feedback on our rates, programs and services, and customer impressions,” said MaryLynn Lodor, environmental department head. “By asking the tough questions, we can change or tweak our approach. We may not be able to lower rates, but we can communicate better so that the customers understand what they are paying for and how something will affect them.”

BCDES also serves its constituents by forming close ties with utilities in surrounding communities. For example, the department has entered into water supply contracts with nearby cities Cincinnati and Hamilton, helping conserve a range of costs.

“BCDES purposefully identifies and develops regional partnerships with other utilities and entities that offer significant benefits over other alternatives,” said Robert B. Leventry, deputy director. “Benefits accrue to customers both in terms of service levels, lower and more stable utility rates, and environmental quality. Capital investment, labor, energy, and chemical savings are also analyzed for each regional relationship. Since the benefits and costs must also be realized by BCDES's regional partner, savings and services are spread beyond the department's immediate customer base.”

Also, when planning for the future, a top priority is to maximize the benefit to the agency's constituents. “By keeping apprised of upcoming water quality issues and concerns on either groundwater or surface water, we can be poised to respond appropriately if necessary,” said Lodor. “When we do have a role to play, we often go through what the director calls the red-face test. ‘Will this pass muster with our ratepayers? Is there a benefit to our customers and the bottom line?' By developing projects that are good for ratepayers as well as good for the county's economic development or environment, we can maximize the overall gain.”

The agency's propensity for forward thinking is further illustrated in its numerous master plans. These models help managers analyze growth and project future needs. Earlier this year, the department completed its water master plan, which identifies and evaluates system improvements needed through 2022. Using its geographic information system, BCDES assigned each undeveloped parcel in the service area an expected development density and timeframe; analysts then translated the information into estimated water demand. Results will help the department craft plans for infrastructure improvements that anticipate future needs.

Program judges

Pamela Broviak, P.E., city engineer/public works director, LaSalle, III.

Shawn Lindsey, public works director, Athens, Tenn.

Barbara Lucks, materials recovery/education coordinator, Springfield, Mo.

Tim Madhanagopal, P.E., D.E.E. Q.E.P, plant manager of the water reclamation division in Orange County, Fla.

Dave Newcomb, P.E., PhD, vice president of research and technology, National Asphalt Pavement Association

Kimberly Paggioli, P.E., marketing manager, HOBAS Pipe USA