Friday, October 16, 2015

TOP STORY >> Sewer boss gets ingenuity honor

Tom Kunetz   of the Water Environment Federation’s board of trustees (left) presents the first-place national Ingenuity Contest award to Walton J. Summer, collections system manager for Jacksonville Wastewater Utility at the organization’s Technical Exposition and Conference in Chicago in September.

Leader staff writer

Jacksonville Wastewater Utility’s collections systems manager has won, for the second consecutive year, first place in the Water Environment Federation’s national Ingenuity Contest.

The 2015 award was presented to Walton J. Summers in September at the WEF Technical Exposition and Conference in Chicago.

Summers’ entry, in the “Dean of Public Education” category, was a display he constructed in a few weeks to educate the public on how smoke-test inspections work.

The “real-scale” model is about 16 square feet, and part of it is about 9 feet long, Summers said. The display features a replica manhole, line and cleanout cap.

Those who look at it can see an underground view of the line, which is cracked and wrapped in tree roots.

A fog machine is used to mimic smoke. The “smoke” is put through manhole in the model and then seeps up out of the grass, which is represented by green outdoor carpet.

In the field, real smoke tells workers where breaks in lines are, that repairs are needed and that they must run a camera through to see what the problems are so they can be corrected.

“We’re doing a lot of smoke testing right now, and people don’t know what we’re doing,” Summers said. “If you’ve got a problem with your house plumbing, the smoke will actually come out into your house.”

Thea Hughes, Jacksonville Wastewater Utility’s general manager, added that people are notified several times before a smoke test that affects their homes is conducted.

Summers said a camera is also hooked up to his display, so that the public can see what the utility’s staff sees when they smoke test lines.

Another model he built in 2014 also earned first place in the same contest.

It demonstrates that keeping cleanout caps in good condition prevents water that doesn’t need to be treated from going to the sewer plant. The caps are access points for private service lines and used when lines become clogged, Summers explained.

They are usually round and white, he noted.

Summers’ trailer-mounted model is about 7 feet tall and 4 feet wide. It features a replica of a house’s side with water flowing from the mock roof onto four caps in various conditions — from watertight to broken and missing.

Summers explained how many residents run their caps over with lawn mowers and break them off, not knowing that they are inadvertently causing the plant to treat water that doesn’t need to be treated and raising their own sewer bills at the same time.

“(The caps are) right at the edge of the house where the rain comes off the roof. If it’s broke, all that rainwater goes into the sewer system. It comes here, and we’re treating clean water.

“That causes us trouble, and it costs the customer more money because we’re treating extra water that doesn’t need to be treated,” he said.

Of the model, he explained, “You can actually see how much water is coming from a trickle off a roof. We use it at the FestiVille, stuff like that.”

When crews are out and see a damaged or missing cap, Summers continued, they replace it free of charge. The caps cost around $1, he noted. “In the long run, it’s a win-win thing” to replace them.

Summers has been working at Jacksonville Wastewater Utility for about 27 years and is a member of the Jacksonville Lions Club. He started as an equipment operator and worked his way up as opportunities and training became available.

The collection systems department he manages now repairs all sewer lines in the city, Summers explained.

He feels public education is important because “it saves them money, and it saves us money...cuts down on backups, overflows. It all goes hand in hand. And it protects the environment, too.”

Hughes, the general manager, said the contest he won is unbiased because judges come from different cities, industries and even include government officials. She emphasized that Summers’ competition was nationwide.

“I think that (him winning) shows how interested are employees are in what they do and how proud they are of what they do because, a lot of times, sewer workers get overlooked.”

She was told, via email, “WEF started this contest four years ago because they felt very strongly that, if they were going to encourage innovation in the industry, it doesn’t come from just new companies and loads of research, but can also be found every day from the activities of those who are on the front lines.

“WEF started this contest to ferret those people and ideas out and let others know about their clever solutions to everyday issues.”

Summers agreed, saying all wastewater companies have the same problems but many don’t think about approaching them with public education in mind. He said the more Jacksonville Wastewater Utility educates the public, the more the company is helped.

He added, “I’ve had several people inquire because they want to build similar displays to use at their (events).” Hughes noted that the utility would bring Summers’ displays to other companies upon request.

Summers also said, “People are hands-on and seeing is how (they learn)...These displays put it where the common person can understand right away.”

He noted, “The light bulb comes on instantly” when people see the models in action.

About winning, Summers said, “We don’t get recognized much for what we do, and it makes you feel good.”

Right now, he’s working on ideas for a public-education float the utility will debut at the Jacksonville Boys and Girls Club-sponsored Christmas Parade.

The float may be next year’s Ingenuity Contest entry, Summers added.