Director of Water Resources Jane Kreiter is one of the best examples of the types of opportunities that can be found in local government. When Jane joined the Town staff in 1991, she came on board as a wastewater operator, which is an entry-level position in the wastewater field. From there, she moved up through the department to become Superintendent of Wastewater and today is the Director of the Water Resources Department, which combines the former Water and Wastewater Departments under one and includes the spray irrigation division.
Jane came to Berlin with a degree in Biology and today is a certified water and wastewater superintendent, but she didn’t grow up thinking that one day she would be in charge of a municipal water and wastewater system. However, she has come to realize that, in many ways her position and the responsibilities of her department represent the ultimate in environmental stewardship. “It is often said that water is our planet’s most precious resource,” Jane explains, “and when you think about it, other than air, it is the one resource which has the most impact on every other aspect of life.” Ensuring that the entire system, from the water we drink from our household taps, to the way that wastewater is treated and ultimately dispersed back into the environment, represents this stewardship.
The many positions that make up the water resources department require varied levels of expertise and certifications. At a minimum a wastewater employee must hold a wastewater certification, which requires four years on-the-job experience as well as testing for the certification; water employees require two years’ experience before testing for certification. Because Berlin does its own lab work – obtaining and testing samples of both water and wastewater – training, experience and certifications to qualify to conduct the lab work are also required.
Most recently the Water Resources department has been very excited to have completed the complete renovation of the Wastewater Treatment Plant, renovation of the spray irrigation lagoon at the existing spray site and the current, ongoing development of an additional spray site. These projects represent over $20 million dollars in work, provided primarily through a combination of federal and state grants. The combination of these projects will, when complete, make Berlin the owner and operator of the largest spray irrigation system in the state of Maryland, and will ensure that Berlin contributes no discharge into the local watershed.
Jane is very proud of the accomplishments of the Water Resources Department and her staff. Over the past two decades members of the Berlin Water Resources Department have repeatedly been recognized by the state of Maryland for their performance and accomplishments in their field:
1996: Marvin Smith, Water Operator of the Year
1999: Jane Kreiter, Wastewater Operator of the Year
2000: Plant of the Year
2007: Keith Mariani, Distribution and Collection Operator of the Year
2012: Jamey Latchum, Wastewater Operator of the Year
What services does your department provide?
The Water Department essentially provides 400,000 gallons a day of safe water to all residents of the Town. The Wastewater Department collects, and treats all wastewater – simply the water that goes down drains and is flushed from toilets –to enhance nutrient removal levels with the use of the most current level of technology. The Spray Irrigation division operates the spray sites, which accept the treated wastewater and then, utilizing basically the same type of irrigation system we see on farm fields, spray the wooded acres that make up the spray sites.
What are the typical day-to-day functions for you?
The Water Department personnel inspect the Town’s water wells, and collect and test samples on a daily basis. Then, based on those tests, they mix the chemicals used to treat that “raw” water to make it safe for human consumption and use. Over the course of a year over 200 different substances are tested for to ensure the quality of the water. They also read water meters for billing and other purposes, identify and repair leaks (if the leak is not on private property), install new water services and perform water service cut-offs for non-payment, or at the request of a property owner for repair or other reasons.
The Wastewater Department also reads water meters when scheduled, works to identify and repair sewer blockages and collapses, maintain lift stations*, operate the wastewater plant, and collect and process samples from the lift stations and throughout the processes at the plant to ensure that treatment is progressing as it should. The wastewater plant also accepts septage from haulers transporting from large facilities outside a municipal system, or if another wastewater system is offline for repair or renovation, or from individual properties with septic system.
As explained earlier, the Spray Irrigation division accepts the treated effluent and sprays it on forest land which, in itself, further treats or “cleans” the water. This process also involves well monitoring, sample collecting and testing.
A new aspect of the Water Resources Department that is currently under development is stormwater management. In the past, stormwater (simply: rain water) fell to the surface, flowed off any impervious surface such as concrete, asphalt, roofs, etc., and ultimately soaked into the ground or ran into ditches and bodies of water. Today we recognize that stormwater picks up a number of undesirable elements as it goes through this process, such as chemicals that lay on surfaces or are in the ground, and carries those undesirable elements to natural bodies of water. The current way of handling stormwater is to “treat” it before it gets to the natural bodies of water. While this may ultimately mean true water treatment by diverting stormwater to a treatment facility, the most desirable way of handling stormwater at this time is through natural treatment – avoiding further extensive development of impervious surfaces, such as asphalt parking lots, and developing ways to hold stormwater where it falls for a longer period of time to allow natural filtration. These methods would include more natural features such as rain gardens and wetlands.
*Lift stations literally pump, or lift, wastewater from one part of the system to another to keep it flowing from the source to the plant. Most of the work of the system uses gravity, but the entire system can’t be built to run downhill.
What changes have you experienced or implemented for your department and the way it functions? What changes would you most like to see?
As indicated earlier, the biggest change we’ve seen recently has been the complete renovation of our Wastewater Treatment facility. The features of the new plant actually put Berlin “ahead of the curve” in meeting the mandated requirements for the treatment of water and wastewater. We have also implemented practices and policies for the operation of the departments that are intended to keep us on top of our infrastructure’s state of repair. We have purchased technology and equipment that enables us to identify problem areas easily to clear blockages in the system or repair areas that have collapsed, and we use that technology and equipment to routinely inspect the systems to identify potential problems before they occur.
I hope to continue keeping Berlin’s Water Resources Department environmentally proactive.
What can you tell citizens to make your department’s job easier and their interaction with your department go as smoothly as possible?
Unlike electric meters, water meters are actually in the ground and one of the most common problems that we encounter is vehicles parked on top of, or landscaping planted around meter pits. If we can’t access the pit, we can’t read the meter, which results in estimated bills and other issues. We also ask our citizens to take simple steps to help save water; don’t let automated irrigation systems run when it’s raining, fix drips in sinks, running toilets, etc. Ultimately these steps not only save water, but they save the customer money because every drop of water that runs into their house is metered and it all adds up on their water bills. Also, if a customer suspects they may have a leak – their bill seems excessive, or they notice a patch of ground that never seems to dry out – we can help to identify the source and getting it fixed as quickly as possible will save significantly. We can’t actually fix the leak if it is on the property owner’s side of the meter, but identifying it is a crucial first step.
We also want everyone to be aware that what people commonly call the “sewer” is really part of the stormwater system. The large drain grates found on many streets at the curb line are for stormwater runoff, and dumping chemicals, trash or even natural items like lawn cuttings is actually against the law.
What is the most rewarding aspect of your job?
Knowing that we are providing the cleanest water possible and using the most environmentally sound practices possible to treat wastewater.
What is a common misconception people have about your department? What is an aspect of your job that is less enjoyable?
One of the main misconceptions is about stormwater and the perception that the best way to deal with it is to move it as quickly as possible. As I discussed earlier, the benefits of actually “holding” it where it falls to allow for natural disbursement is really the best practice.
Another misconception is that water should be pure H2O. Every natural water source contain ‘contaminants’ such as sodium, calcium and iron, even arsenic, which are all naturally occurring. What we do is maintain naturally and artificially occurring contaminants at levels that are safe, and even recommended, for human consumption. Even bottled water generally comes from a water treatment system, often the same system a municipality uses. Anyone seeking further information about our water quality can find our most recent Water Quality Report on the Town website at www.berlinmd.govor by calling us at 410-641-3845 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wastewater treatment is a much more technical and sophisticated process than people think. Our staff is highly trained and continues to receive training as required.
One of the less enjoyable aspects is…well, our job is not glamorous. There’s no getting around the reality of what we’re dealing with and the fact that it’s dirty and smelly and hazardous.
Where do you see your department in 10 years?What is on your “wish list” for your department?
I see Berlin continuing to make use of emerging technologies and practices to provide our citizens the best service possible by staying on top of our industry.