Water Pollution Control Plant Celebrates 50 Years

WPCP1On Thursday, Aug. 13 , the City of Muscatine Water Pollution Control Plant (WPCP) held a 50 Year Celebration Open House with tours of the plant and laboratory. It was my second time touring the plant and hearing about the process used to remove harmful organisms and other contaminates from wastewater so it may be safely sent to the Mississippi River.

While on each tour, I could not help but realize how little I think about the water I use. As long as it turns on at the sink or in the shower, I assume things are good to go. I think it is safe to say that a majority of the U.S. population is with me. We don’t often think of the “after” when we flush the toilet or run dishwater down the drain. In touring the plant, I got more than a “whiff” of the “after.” Considering the magnitude of waste water that goes through WPCP, the smell was actually not as bad as I would have imagined. The WPCP works hard to keep the odors under control.

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I am going to briefly describe the process used at WPCP to filter water to give you a better idea of what actually goes on at the plant. Jon Koch, WPCP Director, is a wealth of knowledge and does a fantastic job giving tours of the plant. WPCP7

  1. Headworks building – This is the first stop at the plant. All of the wastewater that is collected from homes, commercial buildings and industrial facilities comes here via the collection system. Any large material is separated from the wastewater. Mechanically cleaned bar screens remove bigger materials, such as leaves, wood, rocks, baseball caps, etc. Vortex Grit Chambers (or “Tea Cups”) remove finer particles, such as sand, coffee grounds, egg shells, or “grit.” All removed material is taken to the landfill for disposal.
  2. Primary Clarifiers – Once the wastewater goes through the initial screening process, it is sent to the clarifiers to slow the flow. This allows most of the remaining material to settle out. The settled material has strong organic content so it is sent to the digesters (more on that later!) for further treatment. Lighter material, like oil, grease or anything else that floats is skimmed off the top of the clarifiers and is called “scum” – it is also sent to the digesters.
  3. WPCPAeration Basins – Next, the wastewater is mixed with Return Activated Sludge (RAS) in the splitter box, where air is then added to it. This “biomass” is referred to as mixed liquor. As the mixed liquor moves through the basin, actively metabolizing organisms (better known as “bugs”) biodegrade the water.
  4. Final Clarifier – In the final clarifier, the mixed liquor must travel from the middle of the clarifier to the outer ring. This allows the heavier material to sink and the clarified water to proceed to the next step. The heavy settled material becomes RAS that is sent to the beginning of the aeration basin (step 3) or to be mixed with more incoming wastewater. Some of the RAS is also taken away to the Thickener Building. Basically, the “bugs” keep getting reused over and over again in the cycles of filtering wastewater. 
  5. Disinfection – Before sending the water to the Mississippi River, WPCP uses UV disinfection methods. After final clarification, the water passes through the UV array where 254 nanometer wavelengths of UV attack the vital DNA of bacteria left in the water, making bacterial reproduction impossible.

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That sums up the process of taking wastewater from homes and businesses and eliminating materials and bacteria so that it can safely enter the Mississippi. I found it really neat that WPCP does not use any type of chemical to accomplish this great task.

The “bugs” used throughout the process are natural and end up reproducing themselves. The UV system has no by-product and is effective in seconds as opposed to 30 minutes of contact required by chlorine. In the past, the Muscatine WPCP used chlorine for disinfection, but the hazardous chemicals are dangerous to handle and require more hazardous chemicals to de-chlorinate.

Now, I’m going to explain one more crucial function of the plant. Remember how I mentioned that some materials would be going to digesters for further treatment? Well, those digesters are anaerobic, meaning “without oxygen.”

WPCP4

The digesters get materials from two places. 1) The settled material and “scum” from the primary clarifiers, 2) Waste Activated Sludge from the Thickener Building.

In the Thickener Building, the solid material in the water is removed by a solids separation device so that as much water can be cleaned and returned as possible. This solid material is the Waste Activated Sludge, which, like I explained above, goes into the digesters.

Let’s go back to the digesters and look into what they do. The anaerobic bacteria in the digester and the incoming material mixture is heated to 95 degrees Fahrenheit and maintaned at a stead pH of 7.0. This creates the environment best suited for creating methane gas. WPCP5

Currently, a portion of the gas is used to fire the boilers that heat the system to 95 degrees. The rest is burned off and released into the atmosphere. There are future plans in place to use this excess gas to power generators that can run other equipment at the plant.

So, we know that the digesters release methane gas. But, what happens to all of the sludge that went into the digesters in the first place?

WPCP 1Once digested and stabilized, the sludge is tested to meet a set of standards. The Muscatine WPCP produces a Class B (II) biosolid, which is safe for specific agricultural applications. This biosolid material is pumped into two large lagoons across the Highway 61 bypass (right across from Lutheran Living Senior Campus). It is stored there until fall when fields have been harvested. Then, it is pumped to a tractor that injects the biosolid material 8 inches into the subsurface of the ground to be used as fertilizer.

It is pretty cool how biosolids are the by-product of wastewater treatment and then can be used as a safe, organic and economical alternative to chemical fertilizers. WPCP is able to provide the service of treating wastewater while using the aftermath of treatment to provide another service to area farmers.

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With that, I will wrap up this post about the Water Pollution Control Plant. In the future, I hope to feature information about the WPCP’s state of the art laboratory that was built in 2014. That’s another great advancement for Muscatine.

Thank you for reading!

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Mayor and Jill Hopkins’ Trip to China for the Opening of the Muscatine Center was a Success

Muscatine China Relationship

Mayor and Jill Hopkins and Albert Liu are guided into the Muscatine Center at the Opening Ceremony

Last month, Mayor DeWayne Hopkins and his wife Jill spent ten days in China to attend the opening of the Muscatine Center and renew old friendships. This was Hopkins’ second trip to China as a representative of Muscatine. The first trip to China in November 2012 served to set the stage for the sister city relationship between Muscatine and Zhengding County.

Hopkins described landing in China on this trip as different than his first. In 2012, he and the group from Muscatine landed in Beijing as a light snow dusted the ground. This time, they flew into Shanghai where they were forced to embrace the summer heat.

The first night in Shanghai consisted of dinner at a restaurant in the Bund area with a view across the Yangtze River. After dinner, Mayor and Jill Hopkins, Daniel Wang and Glad Cheng of China Window LLC and Albert Liu of Musco Lighting took a walk along the river. Daniel and Glad explained the history of some colonial buildings in the area.

Hopkins said that the Bund area was full of sightseers who were out enjoying the view of the city lights and the iconic Oriental Pearl TV Tower.

Muscatine China Relationship

Mayor and Jill Hopkins in front of 3-D Mural in Hangzhou

Early the next morning, they took a bullet train to Hangzhou. In Hangzhou, Hopkins had a familiar welcome after being greeted and led into a building containing pools to raise goldfish. The moment he entered the room where they would meet with representatives in Hangzhou, Hopkins knew he had been in that room before.

He joyfully described the 3-D mural that covered the wall. The mural included imagery of traditional Chinese architecture as well as natural landscapes.

The next stop was Glad’s hometown, Kaihua. There, the group visited with Glad’s family and toured local sites, including a root carving museum.

After touring various cities throughout China, Hopkins and the group made their way to Jinan on July 17 for the opening of the Muscatine Center, where Hopkins serves on the Board of Directors.

The center features photos of Muscatine from the past and present, big screens with videos of key players in the Muscatine-China relationship and information about Muscatine businesses. There is a clear theme present that highlights China’s President Xi Jin Ping’s relationship with the City of Muscatine. An impressive feature of the center is a 300 square foot table model of Muscatine.

Hopkins described the opening of the center as a time of celebration. He and Jill were joined at the center by Muscatine High School students Marci Clark, Grant Nollette, Zoey Petersen and Alexa Santaniello, Davenport Central student Kay Axel, and their chaperone, MHS teacher Angie Curtis.

Muscatine China Relationship

Mayor Hopkins and Mr. Li of the Confucius Foundation of Jinan sign agreement to begin communications process for business and friendship relationship

“The whole purpose of the trip was to be part of the Muscatine Center’s grand opening,” Hopkins said. “From that standpoint, I think it was a highly successful trip.”

Prior to the big event, Hopkins and Mr. Li of the Confucius Foundation signed an agreement to begin a communications process to move forward with a business and friendship relationship between Muscatine and Jinan.

During his visit to China, Hopkins was eager to reconnect with old friends in Muscatine’s sister city Zhengding County. He had the chance to meet with Zhengding’s Mayor Yang, who was serving his final days in office before being promoted to a higher position.

Muscatine China Relationship

Mayor Yang of Muscatine’s Sister City Zhengding presents Mayor Hopkins with a gift

Hopkins and his group had a full schedule during their time in China. They visited eight cities in just seven days.

“Everywhere we went was an extremely rewarding experience,” Hopkins said.

The SAFER Grant and How it Could Lead to the Hire of More Firefighters

Fire Department 6Here is Part 2 in a 4 Part Series on the Muscatine Fire Department.

Last week, I wrote about Fire Department staffing and explained that there are times where the Fire Department goes below the required nine personnel on duty. While this can be for a variety of reasons, it is crucial that there be adequate coverage and protection for the people in Muscatine should major structure fires arise. While meeting with Chief Ewers, he expressed faith in Muscatine’s highly trained and dedicated firefighters who are capable of tackling any type of emergency that may arise.

The City of Muscatine and the Fire Department recognize the need for increased staffing and are working to address it. One of the ways we may be able to increase staffing is through being awarded the US Department of Homeland Security’s Staffing For Adequate Fire And Emergency Response (SAFER) Grant.

Fire Department 5The Muscatine Fire Department has applied for this grant and is waiting to hear if they have been selected to receive it. The projected award end date is September 30, so they should hear sometime between now and then. There are three tiers of priorities for this grant: 1. Rehiring laid off firefighters, 2. Retention of firefighters who face imminent layoff or filling positions through attrition but not filled due to economic circumstances, and 3. Hiring new firefighters. The Fire Department has applied for funding to hire new firefighters, so their request falls into the third priority. This means they’ll be hearing later in the process, closer to the September 30 end date.

What is the purpose of the SAFER Grant?

According to the US Department of Homeland Security, “the SAFER Grant Program provides funding directly to fire departments and national, state, local or tribal organizations representing the interests of volunteer firefighters to assist them in increasing the number of firefighters to help fire departments meet industry minimum standards and attain 24-hour staffing to protect communities from fire and fire related hazards, and to fulfill traditional missions of fire departments.”

What would the SAFER Grant do for Muscatine?

If awarded the SAFER Grant, Muscatine would be granted $575,375 with no strings attached. The value of the grant would enable the Fire Department to hire four firefighters for two years. There are currently two shifts of 12 and one shift of 11 members. Hiring 4 new firefighters would bring the number in each shift up to 13, which is on par with other cities of comparable size.

What happens if we are not awarded the SAFER Grant?

Even if our community is not awarded the SAFER Grant, the Fire Department will continue to seek additional staff through the normal annual budgetary process. The budget request process allows staff and the City Council to see the “big picture” of city-wide needs. They can then prioritize those needs. The preference would be to add four members to the shift staffing (just as would be done immediately if awarded the SAFER Grant). It may need to be done in incremental stages as the budget or revenues allow. Hiring one new firefighter is the immediate preference so that the one shift of 11 members will be able to be at 12 like the other two shifts, thus reducing overtime.

Staffing and then funding for that staffing is a challenge city-wide. Determining how to best use the resources at hand will always bring about tough decisions. However, with the growth in calls for Fire Department service, the City is preparing a plan to meet those growing needs and ensure continued firefighter safety. The SAFER Grant will be a wonderful opportunity for Muscatine if we are selected to receive it. Even if we are not awarded the grant, staff will prepare a recommended plan of action to address staffing needs in the next budgeting cycle.

How is the Muscatine Fire Department Staffed?

Muscatine Fire DepartmentA few weeks ago, I had a nice time touring the Muscatine Fire Department and learning more about how the department works. Now, I’m going to give you a more in-depth look at how the Fire Department organizes itself in order to protect and care for Muscatine’s citizens. Today, I will tell you about staffing and the procedures in place to assure that Fire and EMS services are carried out safely and effectively.

The Fire Department is a 37 uniformed member department. This includes a Fire Chief and an Assistant Chief who each work a 40 hour per week schedule and 35 members who each work a 56 hour work week on 24 hour shifts.

There are three different shift rotations that 35 members of the Fire Department work within – Blue, Green and Red shifts. Two shifts have 12 personnel and one shift has 11. I’m going to break down the shift process and explain how it works. Each shift works every other day over a 5 day period (meaning they work 3 out of 5 days), followed by four days off before repeating the cycle. So, say Blue shift started Monday, they’d be off Tuesday, work Wednesday, be off Thursday, work Friday, then have Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday off before they started the rotation over again on Wednesday.

Here it is again in list form:

  • Monday – work
  • Tuesday – off
  • Wednesday – work
  • Thursday – off
  • Friday – work
  • Saturday – off
  • Sunday – off
  • Monday – off
  • Tuesday – off

Keep in mind that while firefighters do have days off in between their work shifts, after working a 24 hour shift, they likely need to rest and recover from the work.

The Fire Department also has two members of civilian support staff: a full-time ambulance billing manager and a part-time office coordinator.

Muscatine has two staffed fire stations strategically located in our community to maximize coverage and response times. When I toured both facilities, I appreciated hearing about why they chose the locations and how they determined which equipment would be kept in each one. Fire Department

The Public Safety Building (PSB), located at 312 E 5th St., is the main fire station. It has a minimum of 7 and a maximum of 10 personnel staffing ambulances, an engine and an aerial ladder. Station #2, located at 2124 Stewart Rd., is staffed with two personnel and houses an ambulance, engine and the Haz Mat vehicle. The City of Muscatine requires that there be at least 9 firefighters working at all times.

When a shift is fully staffed, the PSB will staff the following vehicles: 3-4 members (depending on which shift) on Engine 311, 2 on Ambulance 351, 2 on Ambulance 352 and Truck 310 (aerial ladder), and 2 on Ambulance 353. In total, with fully staffed circumstances, the PSB would have 9 or 10 members of the Fire Department ready and assigned to the various response vehicles.

Station #2 is always staffed with two members no matter what the daily staffing at the PSB is for the shift. This means that even if the numbers at the PSB begin to dwindle, there will always be two members of the Fire Department working out of Station #2. These two staff members are responsible for three vehicles: an engine, an ambulance and the Haz Mat vehicle. Based on the needs expressed in the call for service, the firefighters at Station #2 will use the vehicle that is necessary for that response.

As I learned more about the process of staffing and responding to calls, I was impressed with the emphasis the Fire Department places on protocol and following procedure. They always have plans in place for backup in the event they need more help. For example, Station #2 only has two members staffed there at a time because based on call volume it makes sense to have the majority of the fire fighters on duty at the PSB. Station #2 only averages 12% of calls, while PSB averages 72% plus 16% for the East Hill area (which is the area for the future third station). However, even if the two personnel at Station #2 go out on a call that does not mean the station is closed, but that they are out working and doing their job. Backup from PSB or other communities with mutual aid or auto aid help to fulfill the needs if other calls arise.

The Muscatine Fire Department has an auto aid agreement for structure fires with Fruitland, which means that at the 1st alarm Fruitland’s firefighters will respond. The 2nd and 3rd alarms will send out aid requests to those who are mutual aid partners for structure fires. On the 2nd alarm, Wilton’s firefighters and 10 off-duty Muscatine firefighters will be notified. On the 3rd alarm, West Liberty’s firefighters and all off-duty personnel for Muscatine will get the signal.

Muscatine Fire DepartmentChief Ewers explained to me that they do have a plan in place if their resources are already out on other calls, dropping the number of fire fighters on a shift to fewer than nine (as is the City’s requirement for staffing). The numbers may drop under nine for a variety of reasons, such as vacation, sick time, funeral leave or due to a two person ambulance crew taking an inter-facility transport to another community. In these cases, off-duty members are issued a call that they may come in to work for overtime to maintain the required nine personnel. Part-time ambulance attendants are also utilized for inter-facility transports, but they cannot perform firefighting functions. In 2014, the average amount of overtime worked by a firefighter was 155 hours for the year.

Occasionally, the number of personnel on duty drops below nine due to calls for service, inter-facility transports by ambulances or the inability to fill overtime slots. In these cases, the Fire Department makes every attempt to fill those slots in a timely manner and has plans in place to continue meeting the community’s needs. It is obviously not an ideal situation when there are fewer than nine firefighters on duty, but those times are not the norm. This only happens occasionally. The City of Muscatine is never without a plan in place to adequately fight fires. Chief Ewers and the rest of the team work hard each day to ensure safety for Muscatine.

So, that’s what I’ve got for your about the Muscatine Fire Department and the way they handle staffing. I hope you enjoyed learning a little bit more about how this crucial department works.

Coming next in this series about the Fire Department will be:

Part 2: Information about the SAFER Grant and how it can help fund the hiring of more firefighters

Part 3: OSHA Respiratory Protection and procedures the Muscatine Fire Department adheres to in fighting structure fires

Part 4: An overview of the Muscatine Fire Department’s auto aid and mutual aid agreements with neighboring communities

Be watching for more information about the Fire Department!

Students from Ichikawamisato, Japan Visit City Hall

On Thursday, July 30, Mayor Hopkins had the pleasure of giving a tour of City Hall to a group of students and their chaperones from Ichikawa Junior High School in Ichikawamisato, Japan. Ichikawamisato is one of Muscatine’s seven current Sister Cities. Muscatine and Ichikawamisato’s official sister city relationship goes back to 1990, meaning that this year is the 25th anniversary.

Muscatine Ichikawamisato

Mayor Hopkins began the tour by telling the students a little bit about what he does as mayor. He showed them his office and then guided them to meet with Finance Director Nancy Lueck and Community Development Director David Gobin. Both Nancy and David gave our guests an overview of their departments and discussed what they do for Muscatine.

Muscatine Ichikawamisato

Muscatine Ichikawamisato

The students had the opportunity to introduce themselves and ask questions. They were eager to learn more about Muscatine.

Muscatine Ichikawamisato

Principal Wataru Watai from Ichikawa Junior High School presented Mayor Hopkins with a poster highlighting the annual fireworks festival in Ichikawamisato. I can tell you from first-hand experience that the fireworks show they put on each year is incredible!

Muscatine Ichikawamisato

Over the years, there have been countless Muscatine students and families involved in the exchanges; each one is able to take from that experience a better understanding of another culture. The relationships that have been built can be long lasting.

Muscatine Ichikawamisato

The Ichikawa Junior High School students had a full agenda of touring Muscatine’s sites and getting to know their host families. Their stay was planned and coordinated by Jessica Blanchard, Julie Kundel and the rest of their team. Thank you to all involved in the Japanese visit. Building relationships in a people-to-people way is why we have sister cities relationships. It was wonderful to welcome our Japanese friends to City Hall!