Columbia Wastewater Treatment Plant Open House Focused on Job Seekers

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An open day held on Friday hopes to increase interest in job opportunities at the Columbia Wastewater Treatment Plant.

Like many career fields, there are multiple openings under seven different job titles in the establishment.

That includes five openings under the list of sewage treatment plant operators, said Jeanne Locklear, human resources coordinator for the city of Columbia.

There are positions where certain prerequisite skills are needed, but there are many more that are entry-level and have on-the-job training, she added.

The open house offered 30-minute rotating tours of the facility to not only give the public an overview of one of the city’s many departments, but also to give potential employees an insight into operations, Locklear said.

“I believe people don’t always understand the critical and essential service that is provided here,” she said. “…(The Open House) gives the community the opportunity to see our great facility.”

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Each tour had about a handful of participants, Locklear said. For those looking for a job, they had the option of applying and even having a job interview on the spot, she said, touting the advantages and stability of the city of Columbia.

The open house was a way of thinking about “other ways to engage in meaningful work,” Locklear said.

Columbia, separate McBaine systems

Tami Hansen, lab supervisor, explains the tests performed at the Columbia Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant.  Laboratory personnel ensure that the final product can be safely released into Missouri waterways and neighboring lands.

The city’s sewage treatment facility is part of a separate system from the McBaine Water Treatment Plant, where upgrades were part of recent Columbia City Council discussions.

Although the treated water is safe to drink, said Lee White, sewer services engineer for the city of Columbia, it is not directly reintroduced into the city’s water system.

The water treated at the treatment plant is everything that comes out of a residence or a business. It will eventually end up in the waterways of Missouri.

It must be processed to standards set by permit with the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. The Missouri Department of Conservation also uses treated water from the Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area adjacent to the treatment plant.

Water treated at the McBaine facility comes from underground wells and the Missouri River, and is what enters a residence or business with which to bathe, wash clothes and dishes, drink or cook.

The sewage treatment plant treats more than 16 million gallons of sewage per day, White said.

“We get all the gray water,” he said.

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That can reach nearly 40 million gallons, he said, if there has been heavy rain. This will happen when storm water enters sewer lines due to damaged pipes or people who have connected storm water systems, such as sump pumps, to a sewer line.

The facility also houses maintenance of sewer and storm water lines and a lab monitors the conditions of water entering and what will eventually leave the facility to ensure it meets permit. of the DNR, White said.

Multi-step treatment process; hold the lines

A sewer pipe camera sits on the floor in a garage at the Columbia Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant.  Employees use the cameras to find blockages or damage to sewer lines.

Wastewater treatment is a multi-step filtering process.

Most of the city’s sewers are gravity-based, although there are 26 pump stations, said Erin Keys, engineering and operations manager at the sewage treatment plant.

“We’re at a low point,” she said.

Depending on the company, some wastewater can be pretreated to standards set by the city for those companies, said lab supervisor Tami Hansen. It is for industrial companies.

The first filter removes the largest particles, which are often items that are rinsed off and shouldn’t be, such as “disposable” wipes or small toys, for example. The second filtering process extracts the majority of the kernels: sand, dirt, and yes, even corn kernels.

The water then passes into settling ponds. Thus, any other particulate matter falls to the bottom of the basins, while the water flows through weirs. This water goes to both low or no oxygen and aeration basins, where microorganisms eat the particles.

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This water then goes to another settling pond. What is deposited returns to the aeration basins. The water also goes to man-made wetlands for further treatment, including UV treatment by the sun.

“They’re a really cool feature. They do a tremendous amount of additional processing,” Keys said.

Anything that can’t be filtered goes into centrifuges to extract the majority of the water so the sludge can be further digested in a higher temperature closed environment. The end product of the digesters and other treatments is a fertilizer that the plant can provide free to farmers.

Wastewater flows through weirs during a treatment process at the Columbia Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant

The plant recovers methane gas from the digesters for use in a boiler, which keeps the digesters at the right temperature and provides winter heat for the facilities.

Sewer maintenance crews are also on site, which are among the vacancies. These are the ones the public sees when it comes to fixing sewer lines or finding out why there has been a backup as well as trying to anticipate potential backups.

They can place cameras in manholes, which are fed into sewer lines. Distance traveled is tracked, so crews can note how far down the line problems are.

“We try to keep the sewage in the system. We don’t want it to come out because that’s what’s causing health issues,” Key said, adding that she took the job to help the environment. .

Charles Dunlap covers local government, community stories and other general topics for the Tribune. You can reach him at cdunlap@columbiatribune.com or @CD_CDT on Twitter. Please consider subscribing to support vital local journalism.

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