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County’s Utilities Division Wins Wastewater Olympics

Published: May 14, 2024

BARTOW, Fla. (May 14, 2024) – The Polk County Utilities Division took first place at the 2024 Florida Water Environment Association’s (FWEA) Operations Challenge, also known as the Wastewater Olympics. The event, which draws Florida’s top wastewater treatment industry professionals, took place April 1-5 in Kissimmee.

Polk County’s team will represent Florida at the national Water Environment Federation Technical Exhibition and Conference competition in New Orleans this October.

At the FWEA’s Operations Challenge, teams competed in five events:
• Process control, which includes a written test and the operation of a wastewater treatment plant via simulation software.
• Maintenance, where the skill of the team is tested by a severe weather condition resulting in a lift station outage.
• Laboratory, in which the teams perform analysis and calculations on a sample.
• Safety response, in which the teams respond to a collapsed worker in a manhole (confined space).
• Collection systems, which simulates connecting a four-inch sewer lateral to an eight-inch gravity main while maintaining service and programing an automatic sampler.
Polk County’s team consisted of Coach Chuck Nichols, Team Captain Jeff Goolsby, Maintenance Specialist Mandi Hebert, Process Specialist Ed Clark, Collections Specialist Cody Diehl and Electrical Expert Dave McGrotty.

“Placing first at the Operations Challenge gives us bragging rights,” said Polk County Deputy Manager Ryan Taylor. “More importantly, though, it means that the people responsible for wastewater treatment in Polk County are top notch. We have some of the best talent possible when it comes to solving the county’s water resource challenges.”

In addition to claiming the overall title, Polk County won the following awards:

• The David W. York Award, which recognizes outstanding water reuse projects. Polk County’s Northwest Regional Wastewater Treatment Facility (WWTF) was named 1 MGD to 5 MGD Reuse System of the Year.
• The Earle B. Phelps Award, which recognizes wastewater treatment facilities for maintaining the highest removal of major pollution-causing constituents prior to public use. Polk claimed four separate awards in this category: Southwest Regional WWTF Great than 4 MGD Advanced Secondary Winner, Northwest Regional WWTF Less than 4 MGD Advanced Secondary Runner Up, Waverly WWTF Secondary Winner and Sun Ray WWTF Secondary Runner Up.
• The FWEA Public Education Award, which recognizes significant public outreach accomplishments. Polk County Bio-Wizards team won this award. The Bio-Wizards promote the value and contribution to public health and safety by water and wastewater utility workers.
• The FWEA Service Award, which is given in recognition of outstanding service to the Florida Water Environment Association. The Bio-Wizards won this award, as well.

“The Bio-Wizards not only win competitions,” said Polk County Utilities Director Tamara Richardson, “but they also serve a valuable role as stewards of our profession. They perform public outreach, and they introduce career opportunities to high school students who are looking for a career path that offers growth and security opportunities.”

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