WEFTEC Operator Ingenuity Contest opens for 2018


WEFTEC® 2018 will host the seventh annual Operator Ingenuity Contest. Not all innovations come from a research lab. Sometimes, you need to tackle a persistent problem using just what’s at hand and a big shot of ingenuity. The competition is open to all clever ideas related to

  • treatment processes,
  • maintenance practices,
  • safety measures,
  • collection systems,
  • laboratory practices,
  • stormwater,
  • administration,
  • human resources, or
  • anything else associated with the water sector.

The bottom line: Even if you’re not sure that your innovation qualifies, submit it.

Drawing inspiration from past winners which includes Travis A. Fisher from the Ojai Valley Sanitary District who won for creating a ball-hitch-mounted arm to hold spools of cable. The “bumper hitch reel” fits over the ball hitch on a truck and helps manage the cables associated with a pipe patch kit and a push camera.

This contest has discovered about 40 award-winning fixes in its first 6 years. Entries are judged on safety, resourcefulness, and how transferable the ideas are. The criteria are kept simple to encourage all kinds of entries. Past winners have included painting buildings different colors to make deliveries easier, building a replica manhole, lateral, and cleanout cap to show customers how smoke inspections work, and a device to safely and easily lift the clarifier skimmer in the winter to prevent the skimmer from freezing to the grease box.

For some more inspiration check out all of the 2017 winners below.

Vacuum Virtuoso Award

Andy Loudermilk from the Bigfork (Mont.) Water and Sewer District received this award for his invention of the “scum sucker.” Loudermilk repurposed an old rotary-lobed positive displacement blower into to vacuum to remove scum from the top of the facility’s membrane bioreactor tanks and deposit it into the facility’s solids holding pit.

 Alternate Acid Activist Award

Zenon Kochan and Matt Seib from the Nine Springs Wastewater Treatment Plant in the Madison (Wis.) Metropolitan Sewerage District received their award for assembling a low-cost, safe, and efficient acid pumping system. Instead of carrying 25-kg (55-lb) bags of powdered acid to the top of a 10-m-tall (30-ft-tall) reactor, operators now use a portable pump that Kochan built to deliver a liquid acid directly into the process tankage. 

Chemical Capture Chief Award

Mark Cataldo from Suez (Paramus, N.J.) and the Killingly Water Pollution Control Plant (Danielson, Conn.) earned his award for installing a trough to catch any spills during sodium hypochlorite deliveries. Catalado attached a simple trough to the wall beneath the inlet pipe to replace a bucket propped up with a board.

Thinkers Who Tinker Award

Kevin Barry, Jeff Leonard, and Jim Wilson from Woodard & Curran (Portland, Maine) and the Pinehills Wastewater Treatment Facility (Plymouth, Mass.) won for applying the motto “work safer, not stronger” to find safer, more efficient approaches to routine tasks. Their changes include using davits and hoists throughout the facility to lift heavy equipment.

Root Assassin Award

Tony Hale from the Cottonwood Improvement District (Sandy, Utah) won for devising an in-pipe spot applicator for chemical herbicides. He built a floating rig that holds a camera and a swiveling nozzle to help deliver foaming root removal chemicals precisely where they are needed. This leads to halving the amount of chemical needed for the job.

Tidy Tester Award

Jason Patty, Ron McClure, Pat Fountain, Glen Holz, and Brad Gillis from the El Dorado (Kan.) Wetlands and Water Reclamation Facility received this award for building a simple and effective return activated sludge (RAS) sampling station. The operators plumbed the RAS line to a bucket, which has a hole in the bottom that is plumbed to the sump pit. Closing the drain valve on the bucket and opening the RAS flow line fills the bucket. Opening the bucket drain valve send the RAS into the sump.

Helpful Hitch Hand Award

Travis A. Fisher from the Ojai (Calif.) Valley Sanitary District won for creating a ball-hitch-mounted arm to hold spools of cable. The “bumper hitch reel” fits over the ball hitch on a truck and helps manage the cables associated with a pipe patch kit and a push camera.

The First Responders’ First Responder Award

Sidney Homer and Tomas Martinez from the 69th Street Wastewater Treatment Facility (Houston, Texas) each received an honorary Operator Ingenuity award for ensuring services that enabled emergency response work following Hurricane Harvey.

At WEFTEC 2017, the winners of the sixth annual WEFTEC Ingenuity Contest received their certificates and gave presentations on their “duct-tape fixes.” Left to right are Andy Loudermilk, Matt Seib, Zenon Kochan, Mark Cataldo, Sidney Homer, Water Environment Federation Trustee Joan Hawley, Tomas Martinez, David Dedian (representing the Thinkers Who Tinker), Tony Hale, Jason Patty, and Pat Fountain.

New entry criteria for 2018 – Submission deadline is June 1, 2018

The submission process is a little different this year. In addition to up to five photos and about one page of text describing the problem you faced and the fix you found, we’re asking you three questions:

  • How transferable is it to other facilities or locations?
  • How does this fix take safety into account?
  • Where did the materials and any money used for the fix come from?

The entire submission process also will move to a more user-friendly platform. Visit www.weftec.org/ingenuity to get started.

Win, present, and publish

Selected inventors will be invited to give 10-minute presentations at WEFTEC 2018 in New Orleans. Submitters do not have to write a full WEFTEC paper. What you provide in your submission is all that is needed in writing for the contest. Even if you can’t come to WEFTEC, submit your ideas. Award winners and select other entries will be converted into articles for the Operator Ingenuity section of Water Environment & Technology magazine.

Questions? Email WEF at [email protected].