When Dave Lochner started working at the City of Auburn’s Water Pollution Control (WPC) Department two days after graduating from high school, he had no idea that he was embarking on what would become a lifelong career as a civil servant.
Lochner joined the WPC Department in 1972 as a plant operator. From the beginning, he learned all facets of wastewater treatment and operations.
“I learned everything to do with the wastewater plant—from fixing pumps to conducting lab tests. I understood it all so I could plug in anywhere I was needed,” he shares.
Lochner served in that role for 10 years before becoming WPC superintendent—a role he’s held for 35 years now. What has kept him there is the importance of what the WPC Department does on a daily basis.
The Importance of Cleaning Wastewater
Lochner says most people don’t give much thought to what happens to the wastewater from their home and community. Yet, it affects us long after disappearing down the drain—and if it’s not properly cleaned, the impact can be detrimental.
Wastewater is water used by homes, businesses and industries. The WPC Department treats it before it is released back to the environment. During the treatment process—which takes approximately 38 hours to complete—pollutants in the water are reduced to a level that nature can handle. This ensures there is clean water for the plants and animals that live in water, as well as those who enjoy recreational activities on the water.
If wastewater is not properly cleaned, it can carry disease. Since we live, work and play near water in Auburn, harmful bacteria must be removed to make water safe. That’s why WPC operations are non-stop, with equipment running 24/7, every day of the year.
Complex, Necessary Operations
Auburn’s WPC operations have grown quite a bit since Lochner started there. In 1972, WPC pumped 1.7 million gallons a day. Today, the department—which now has two treatment plants—pumps 4.5 million gallons a day. It can pump up to 9 million gallons a day, if needed. A team of 15 people, including plant operations, maintenance, lab, collections and biosolid (sludge removal for resale as soil imminent), make it all happen.
The WPC Department also conducts important lab work. The lab staff—a repeated recipient of the Laboratory Excellence award from the Indiana Water Pollution Control Association—tests about 30,000 wastewater samples per year.
Devotion to Process Evident
Wastewater has the potential to affect public health, economic development, recreation, and other aspects of everyday life. This makes the WPC Department a vital part of Auburn’s city services. The work Lochner and his team performs daily ensures the health and well-being of Auburn.
“Wastewater treatment is complicated and laborious, but it’s a necessity,” says Lochner. “This team is dedicated to their work and providing the community with this important service.”
The Wastewater Treatment Process
On a daily basis, the WPC Department performs preliminary, primary, secondary and disinfection treatments. The whole process consists of six phases:
- Preliminary treatment reduces the size of large solids in the influent flow, which protects the remainder of the plant units from damage due to jamming.
- Primary clarifiers receive raw sewage and waste activated sludge. These tanks allow necessary solids to settle to the bottom of the tank, thereby allowing the clearer wastewater to flow to the next phase of treatment.
- Activated sludge treatment is provided in ten aeration tanks.
- Secondary treatment occurs in eleven final clarifiers. These units are sludge collecting units, similar to the process during primary treatment.
- The wastewater is chlorinated for proper disinfection in order to reduce the pathogens to a permissible level.
- During the final phase of tertiary and post-aeration treatment, the flow is directed to two 1.7 MG terminal ponds. These ponds polish the secondary effluent through various physical and biological processes before the wastewater is post-aerated and discharged into Cedar Creek.