Flowing through our series about the components that make up Ventura Water, last month we turned to the wastewater systems. After the City’s wastewater is transported to the Ventura Water Reclamation Facility (VWRF) it must be carefully treated before being released back to the planet's water cycle. The VWRF is a tertiary, or three-step, wastewater treatment plant that operates 24/7, adhering to standards set by the California Regional Water Quality Control Board. Effluent (wastewater discharged into a river or the sea) must meet or exceed multiple parameters like pH, chlorine levels, bacterial and dissolved oxygen concentrations and ammonia and nitrate limits, to name a few. This month’s featured wastewater operations staff person, Sol Clements, likens operating VWRF to “a giant chemistry project.”
For anyone who’s taken a chemistry class, simply put, it’s about careful observation of processes for signs of change. Sol has worked at the wastewater plant for over five years, first volunteering as an operator-in-training, moving to the lab in 2019, and joining the Operations Team in 2020. Operators interface with SCADA, a sophisticated industrial control system that constantly monitors the plant’s workings. Sol uses her senses to make informed observations and then takes the assertive actions required to optimize plant operations.
As you can guess, a wastewater plant is a place with many smells, and Sol knows that changes in those smells can mean an adjustment needs to be made. She also relies on sight—to notice if the color of the foam created in the aeration basins is off or to look under a microscope at sludge to ensure that the bugs, (introduced to digest pollutants) are healthy. If a pump sounds different than usual it could mean bearings are starting to wear, or if it feels warmer than normal Sol will rule out possible causes. And much like a good scientist, when in doubt Sol gets a second or even a third opinion from someone on her team.
VWRF’s Operations Team has fourteen members who hold various certifications, each requiring many hundreds of hours of on-the-job experience and successful passing of exams. Sol is certified as a Lab Analyst l, a Wastewater Treatment Operator lll, and she is working toward her Advanced Water Treatment Operator lll certification. A Class A license is also required for each member of the Operations Team.
Asked what her favorite part of her job is, Sol says she loves serving her community and working with people who authentically care about the job they do. Asked about challenges faced on the job, Sol recalls last winter’s extreme storm runoff and how on a particular night she was called to the plant at 2:00 a.m. Along with the rest of the Operations Team, for the next week she worked to store and treat over 20 million gallons per day of incoming flow, when the typical average is 7.5 million gallons per day.
To keep the wastewater treatment plant running smoothly also requires constant, effective maintenance. Next month we will focus on Ventura Water’s Maintenance Team.