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From left: Eric Wiklund, National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Section Supervisor; Jon Tack, Iowa Department of Natural Resources Water Quality Bureau Chief; Kene Shoop, city of Center Point public works director; IDNR Director Chuck Gipp;  Brian McWilliams, professional engineer with Fehr Graham; Ryan Wicks, Fehr Graham professional engineer and branch manager; and IDNR Deputy Director Bruce Trautman. Not pictured: Laurie Sharp with the Water and Wastewater Operator Certification Program.

Fehr Graham goes to bat for Iowa communities

Ryan Wicks and Brian McWilliams from Fehr Graham’s Manchester, Iowa, office traveled earlier this month to Des Moines to meet with Iowa Department of Natural Resources officials to discuss the minimum requirements and rules for wastewater operators in the state.

As DNR staff process National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permits for wastewater discharge in Iowa following reclassification to comply with EPA regulations, many communities will be required to perform upgrades to their treatment facilities. While this is a positive change, it has placed some challenges on the utilities and the communities the DNR serves.

Wicks, branch manager of Fehr Graham’s Manchester office, said several Fehr Graham clients expressed confusion about the process. Wicks said meeting with state officials started a dialogue regarding the minimum requirements for the Grade III certificate. Would work experience, for example, be accepted as an equivalent to having a two-year degree?

"Fehr Graham felt it was necessary to reach out to the Iowa DNR leadership to clarify the impact of pending plant upgrades and how small communities will be able to comply with newly issued permits,” Wicks said.

While some treatment facilities are upgraded without impact on operator requirements, there are instances when a Grade II operator must move to Grade III. Initial challenges are industrywide. There is a limited number of qualified and certified staff. Many communities have employees with Grade I or Grade II certifications who have been serving for 10 to 15 years or longer. Also, a Grade III certification requires a two-year degree or more. Many of the state’s operators do not meet this minimum. Wicks said there has been some indication by DNR staff that site-specific approvals may be granted for operators who have prior experience.

“The Iowa DNR is aware of the issues and is open to working with communities and individuals to ensure through proper training and education opportunities that individuals will be able to obtain the education requirements to qualify for certification testing,” Wicks said.

Published: July 30, 2017

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