Unsung Heroes of Bossier: Wastewater Plant Workers

There are jobs that often go unnoticed by most of us. We probably don’t give a second thought about certain occupations as we go about our daily lives. Yet, all of us depend on people doing certain jobs day in and day out. These are the jobs that most of us would consider unpleasant and take for granted, except perhaps when things don’t work. For example, think about how often you flush a toilet, or run the washing machine, dishwasher or pour water down a drain. Every time you bathe or shower, the water has to go somewhere.  All that wastewater has to be managed and processed before it returns to nature. That’s where the workers at Bossier City’s Wastewater Treatment Plant come in.

Millions of Gallons of Wastewater, Sewerage Every Day

Shawn Barton is the superintendent for wastewater treatment system operations in Bossier City.

“Anything that gets flushed down the toilet or goes down the drain, we get it here at the plant,” Barton said. “We treat it, test it and send it back in the Red River in better shape than what they pull out of the Red River for drinking water.”

Barton started his career in sewerage and wastewater treatment 26 years ago and explains a lot has changed through the years and says people would be surprised at just how modern the treatment plants have become.

“Everything from input to output is mostly automated thanks to computer technology,” Barton explains. “Everything you see on the computer screens allows us to check on all plant operations at a glance and if something needs attention, we can deal with it right away.”

Bossier City has two wastewater treatment plants to handle everything that comes from neighborhoods, office buildings, stores and more. There is the northeast wastewater plant off Stockwell Road that treats about 2 million gallons of wastewater daily and the south plant of Barksdale Highway 71 South and it treats about 6 million gallons. Combined both plants have the capability of treating up to 18 million gallons to accommodate future growth. Both plants operate 24/7/365 days a year and are staffed around the clock.

More Modern, Less Odors

As the city started to have growing pains, so did the demand on the older plants to handle more wastewater. One noticeable problem was an increase in bad odors.

“The older one was built in the 70’s and was degrading faster, the ancient equipment was hard to get parts so it was time to build a new facility. So the new plant went online in 2016.”

Thanks to the upgrades, it’s a rare event when there is any unpleasant smell.

“We have such a more modern process now we are able to keep odors to a minimum,” Barton said. “If we do get any plant odors it’s an indication of a process upset. That’s when we go through the system and make immediate adjustments.”

Although automatic controls and sensors keep the plant running smoothly, there is still a need for humans to fix things.

Arron Schwarz is the maintenance foreman and operator at the plant. He explains that although technology has taken over a lot of the functions, it still takes people to make the plant function.

“There’s always something to work on or some maintenance to be performed to keep things running”, said Schwarz who took the job at the sewer plant in January when he retired after 20 years in the Air Force.

“I sort of fell into this job,” jokes Schwarz. “I was an aircraft mechanic and had no idea I would be working at a sewer treatment plant, but it’s a great job with great benefits.”

While it has modern computer controls, he says it still needs people to perform basic functions.

“Although we have all these screens where we can monitor everything, someone still needs to be outside and check things like pumps, then check levels of sludge settlement, and take samples for bacterial analysis.”

Biology, Chemistry and High Technology

Water samples are taken and undergo a series of analysis checking for pH levels and microbial counts of good versus bad bacteria volumes.

Guy Whitfield is a treatment plant senior operator and among his responsibilities is running tests on the plants treated wastewater. He’s been at this job for 15 years.

“It’s a lot better than it was before thanks to modernization especially with testing samples and record keeping,” Whitfield said. “We used to have piles and piles of tablets laid out everywhere because we had to test samples every hour and write the results down but with digital records on computers it is a whole lot easier.”

Barton agrees and says, “It’s a combination of biology, some chemistry and of course high-tech as we have computers that track everything automatically to generate reports so we run much more efficiently.”

Common Misconceptions

In spite of all this high technology and modern plant efficiency, there still lingers one basic question: What is the biggest misconception the public has about this job?

Without missing a beat, Barton says with a laugh, “Everybody thinks that if you work here, you’re covered in crap all day! And it’s not like that at all.”

In fact about the only time a plant worker would get dirty is performing pump maintenance or equipment repair.

“It’s a cleaner job than most people think,” Barton said. “It does have its moments but 90% of the time it’s a clean operation.”

“Most people think it would smell bad,” Schwarz said. “But really it doesn’t have much of a smell for the most part.”

Whitfield agrees and adds, “And when people do see just how clear and clean the treated wastewater is after it runs through the plant, that really surprises them.”

So next time you do dishes, laundry, shower or flush, think where your wastewater goes and what happens next. It has to go somewhere and get treated before it returns to nature. Thankfully Bossier City has the professional staff and capable technology working around the clock to do just that.

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