News Feature | February 14, 2019

Wastewater 'Boot Camp' Drives Resiliency, Fights Industry Brain Drain

Peter Chawaga - editor

By Peter Chawaga

Above-and-beyond commitment from the personnel responsible for treating the nation’s wastewater might not be a surprise to those who work in the industry. But even by the highest standards, one man in Rhode Island has earned himself special accolade for his dedication to the craft.

Bill Patenaude, a principal engineer with the state’s Department of Environmental Management (DEM), was recently awarded the New England Water Environment Association Clair N. Sawyer Award for outstanding service in the wastewater industry thanks to his efforts to address two of the most pressing issues faced by wastewater operations around the country.

“He’s the founder of the [DEM’s] Wastewater Boot Camp,” according to the Warwick Beacon. “He is also a key player in a project to improve the storm/flood resiliency of wastewater facilities in the state.”

Because of his work to address both industry “brain drain” through the boot camp and improve resiliency in the face of rising sea levels and increased wastewater plant flooding, Patenaude is at the forefront of two critical obstacles that nearly any wastewater operation can relate to.

The DEM boot camp, for instance, offers a model that has been replicated elsewhere and may be making real progress as institutional knowledge in the industry retires.

“In 2007 [Patenaude] initiated DEM’s Wastewater Leadership Boot Camp, which to date has provided training to more than 80 aspiring wastewater treatment facility managers,” per the Beacon. “The free, industry-driven program provides intensive training, networking, and skill-development course work to help groom the next generation of wastewater management leaders. Rhode Island’s Boot Camp program has since been replicated and is ongoing in every New England State.”

Meanwhile, Patenaude’s work to improve resiliency at the coastal state’s wastewater treatment facilities also offers potential insight for operations facing similar threats around the country.

He is part of a project — Implications of Climate Change for RI Wastewater Collection & Treatment Infrastructure — that examined Rhode Island’s 19 major public wastewater treatment facilities and major collection system infrastructure, and the physical impacts that could be sustained at these facilities from projected increases in storm intensities, rainfall amounts, and rising seas,” the Beacon reported. “Its goal is to help state agencies and communities consider how best to protect this critical and expensive infrastructure in current and future conditions.”

Ultimately, Patenaude’s receipt of the award seems well earned. Not only is he at the forefront of two cutting-edge wastewater developments today, but he’s been a long-time advocate for an industry that is all too often overlooked by many of those whom it serves.

“It’s the most important infrastructure no one ever sees,” Patenaude told ecoRI News last year. “It’s civilization 101 — the greatest boon to public health. This infrastructure gets waste away from where you live and the water you drink.”

To read more about the individuals who lead drinking water and wastewater treatment, visit Water Online’s Labor Solutions Center.