News | July 3, 2023

Wastewater's Top Talents Primed For Operations Challenge 2023

When it comes to Operations Challenge — the water sector’s premier annual skills competition — there is no offseason. Operations Challenge pits the world’s most talented facility operators, maintenance workers, and laboratory technicians against each other in a series of thrilling, timebound trials; and the work to prepare for WEFTEC 2023 has already begun.

Operations Challenge teams, each of which represents a Water Environment Federation (WEF; Alexandria, Virginia) Member Association or comparable regional organization, feature four members. They compete in five events that test an array of skills critical to success in the water and wastewater sector: Process Control; Laboratory; Safety; Collections Systems; and the Vaughan Maintenance Event. Throughout the year, these squads work tirelessly on their teamwork and tactics in hopes of earning the chance to represent their region’s Member Association at the WEFTEC Operations Challenge competition, and ultimately return home as worldwide champions.

Ahead of the 36th annual Operations Challenge competition set to take place at WEFTEC 2023 in Chicago, Operations Challenge veterans and newcomers alike are in the thick of preparation. Steve Harrison, WEF Senior Manager of Operator Programs, who leads efforts to coordinate the annual competition, predicts a particularly crowded field this year that will feature talents from far beyond the U.S. and Canada.

"We expect to host our largest competition ever this year — likely more than 50 teams," Harrison said. "The value of the skills competition as a training tool continues to be recognized by water quality organizations around the world. This year, we expect teams from Argentina, Colombia, Denmark, Finland, and Germany at WEFTEC."

Qualifiers in Full Swing
Several regional qualifying events for Operations Challenge 2023 already have taken place across the U.S. and Canada, with several more scheduled throughout the summer.

In March, South Carolina-based teams met at the South Carolina Environmental Conference in Myrtle Beach to compete for the chance to represent the Water Environment Association of South Carolina at Operations Challenge 2023. Texas teams did battle at the Texas Water 2023 conference, co-hosted by the Water Environment Association of Texas and the Texas Section of the American Water Works Association, in April. Similar qualifying events have been held by the Water Environment Association of Ontario, the Water Environment Association of Utah, the New Jersey Water Environment Association, and the Florida Water Environment Association.

Additional qualifiers scheduled throughout the summer include

  • The Operations Challenge competition at the New England/New York Water Environment Association Joint Spring Meeting in Saratoga Springs, New York, June 6–9;
  • the Virginia Water Environment Association Operations Challenge competition in Rockville, Virginia, June 14–15;
  • the PennTec Operations Challenge competition hosted by the Pennsylvania Water Environment Association in Hershey, Pennsylvania, June 18–21;
  • the Rocky Mountain Water Environment Association Operations Challenge competition in Denver, June 23;
  • One Water Ohio’s Wastewater Operations Challenge Invitational at the One Water Technical Conference and Exhibition in Columbus, August 21–22;
  • the Chesapeake Tri-Association Conference, co-hosted by the Chesapeake Water Environment Association, in Ocean City, Maryland, August 29–September 1; and
  • PNCWA2023, hosted by the Pacific Northwest Clean Water Association, in Tacoma, Washington, September 11–13.

High-performing teams in each of these events will earn an invitation to register to compete at WEFTEC 2023. Team registration will open on July 18.

New for 2023: Vaughan Maintenance Event
Each year, Operations Challenge planners refresh rules and procedures for one of the five events to ensure the competition evolves alongside the demands of the water profession.

Operations Challenge 2023 will mark the premiere of the Vaughan (Montesano, Washington) Maintenance Event, which tests competitors’ ability to solve equipment problems associated with improper disposal of fats, oils, and grease (FOG).

The event imagines a sanitary pumping station serving a bustling, downtown neighborhood with several restaurants and other businesses. Insufficient grease-trapping procedures lead to high concentrations of FOG in much of the wastewater entering the station, which results in chronic sanitary sewer overflows due to ragging and debris issues rather than heavy precipitation. When teams competing in the event arrive on the scene to perform routine maintenance for the pumping station, they discover a dangerous amount of debris buildup in the wet well, which requires them to readjust a conditioning pump and replace a damaged impeller pump nozzle in addition to completing their normal maintenance tasks.

Team members must work together to perform each of these tasks — which include interacting with an electrical control panel, assembling and disassembling a gantry, and performing quality checks — all according to proper safety procedures, as quickly as possible. The new Vaughan Maintenance Event already has been integrated into this year’s regional qualifier competitions.

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Source: WEFTEC