Operators of the water reclaim plant in a California prison devise a creative solution to provide denitrification and meet effluent standards for off-grounds discharge.
The four inmate operators of a water reclamation plant at the California Correctional Institution in Tehachapi faced a dilemma. Working with plant flows and influent BOD well below the original plant design levels, they could not denitrify well enough to meet a 10 mg/L total nitrogen permit limit for discharge to customers off the facility grounds.
Working together, and under the supervision of three state-employed operators and a contract chief plant operator, they developed a creative solution to the problem that enabled the facility to resume delivering reuse water to customers during a severe drought when demand for reclaimed water was high.
As of last summer, the plant was meeting its requirements for discharge off the grounds and was meeting the needs of water customers. “There is no greater feeling than knowing we were able to come up with a solution together,” Says Keith Fredrickson, the lead inmate operator at the Tehachapi correctional facility who provided most of the information for this story. He holds a Grade III Wastewater Operator license (second highest) and has passed his Grade IV exam. He also holds T2 Water Treatment and D2 Water Distribution licenses.
“As an inmate, this is the best job I ever had. Most prison jobs involve performing menial tasks, such as preparing food or basic janitorial work. I had a job that allowed me to contribute something significant to the institution and its community. The plant had a legitimate problem. My co-workers and I were asked to think like operators. We poured our heart and soul into finding a solution, and then it finally came.”
Fredrickson notes that he and his fellow inmate operators all expect to be paroled by the end of 2017 or sooner. He says, “We are all excited about the prospect of starting our own careers in the water and wastewater industry.”