By Chad Meyer, President of PeopleService
Most Iowans of a certain age will remember the lonely Maytag repairman born out of the Newton, Iowa company. This poor soul was lonely because the appliances he was trained to fix hardly ever needed fixing. They were that reliable. America’s basic utilities – electricity and water – are that reliable, too. They rarely break down with the need for an emergency fix because these plants have experts on deck assuring quality 24/7/365. Like that washing machine that works until it doesn’t, I can speak for the water/wastewater industry when I say that as long as clear, safe water flows from the faucet, and lakes and streams remain fishable, people tend to take smooth-running operations for granted. In fact, most people when interviewed don’t have a clue how water is made safe and clean to drink and readied to be returned to the environment.
Where it gets lonely is in the water/wastewater industry as a whole. This lack of knowledge about and appreciation for how it all works makes the industry nearly invisible among high school grads, those entering college and even those who find themselves in need of a mid-stream career. We simply aren’t creating enough awareness about this field and so the pipeline of talent is suffering. Our company works with Iowa’s DMACC and Kirkwood Community Colleges to pull people into their Water Environment Technology associate’s degrees and long-time industry expert Dennis White has come out of retirement to tout the benefits of working in water/wastewater among veterans and others looking for fulfilling work.
All this is great – and it’s a longer-term solution to a field retiring more operators than there are to fill those spots – particularly with more stringent certification standards put on new or upgraded water/wastewater plants that require higher levels of certifications among management. When plants don’t have an operator who has passed the certification level required, it can leave them in a pickle. Passing certifications is no easy feat (rightfully so). It takes years of experience and in-depth study to earn these credentials. So, as we work to get more people where they need to be to manage plants, a viable, perhaps underutilized solution is management/operator by affidavit.
In Iowa, an affidavit operator is an operator who signs an agreement with the owners of a specific water treatment, distribution system or wastewater facility to be their Operator-In-Charge. An affidavit agreement between an operator and the owner of a facility or system puts the properly certified operator in direct responsibility for the daily operation of the facility even though he may only be on-site a few times a week. Therefore, the certified operator must be given authority to direct all matters pertaining to the operation of the facility or system.*
Cities/plants identify an operator with the certifications needed to operate their plant and apply to the appropriate regional IDNR office for the permission for that plant to be operated by affidavit under this person’s certificate. When granted, operations/management by affidavit terms include regularly scheduled samples testing, monitoring, reporting, being present for inspections, communicating with plant ownership and being on-site for prescribed amounts of time per month. Specifics are established by the IDNR for individual plants.
When water/wastewater plants require specific knowledge, experience and skillsets to operate safely – impacting the health and welfare of their citizens, and when there are knowledgeable, experienced operators with the right level of certification willing to balance the responsibilities of more than one plant, operations/management by affidavit seems to be a smart avenue to pursue.
*Operator by Affidavit Guidance 567-81.2(3) Iowa DNR