Bad Economy Hits Close to Home at a Wastewater Treatment Plant

Ron Eisele By: Ron Eisele

During the VRWA Conference in Roanoke this past month I got to talking with Steve Clary. He’s the Wastewater Superintendent over in Henry County. We started talking about the past downturn in the economy and what effect it has had on smaller communities.  Steve started to tell me about his system and how moving one industry out of their community started a domino effect that was felt all the way to their treatment plants.

Henry County PSA had two systems. They called them Upper Smith and Lower Smith. Upper Smith closed its doors in 2003 and at its height of production it was producing 3 mgd. Then, in 2005 the Lower Smith went from a 6 mgd plant down to a .6 mgd facility until they finally closed their doors also.  They are currently using three aerated lagoons, and one alum sludge lagoon. They went from 17 employees operating their treatment plants, down to 3, plus the superintendent. That is quite a dramatic drop.

The textile industry was very large this area. Most of their flows came from them. As the industry started to outsource more and more of their jobs the people went away, and if the people go away so do the water usage and sewage needs.  Soon the factories shut down and influent flows dried up to a trickle.

We have heard this same scenario over and over again from larger cities. The effects in a larger facility are felt but these same changes on a smaller system can be devastating.When we as operators look at our influent day after day and see the seemingly never ending river of flow we think we have a job forever. And in the past this was true. We always say “everyone needs water and sewer.” But if no people are around to have the need then we don’t have a job. So the next time you lose a customer, whether it be a home, shop, business, school or industry; stop to think about Steve and his crew, it could be yours one day. See you next time at the Headworks.