Volunteer Spotlight: Zack Wallin

This fall’s volunteer spotlight is the one and only Zack Wallin.

Our volunteers dedicate their time and resources with a hope that they can make a difference, but that’s not to say they don’t get something back from their involvement. Being a GWS volunteer provides wastewater professionals with a place to channel their passions, increase their networks, and develop their skills further in a market they typically may not have had the chance to experience. It’s a great place for young professionals to learn and get involved in CSWEA early! One of our new young professional volunteers deserves a shout-out! Zack is a 2016 graduate from UW Platteville and was a winner of the 2016 student design competition. He traveled to Costa Rica in August with the GWS team and has since remained very actively involved, even though his duties as student design winner were complete after WEFTEC. He played a crucial role in the completion of the preliminary design for the Bahia Ballena project during the competition phase and continues to be flexible and dedicated to the project’s success. He now serves as Student Design Chair.

Liz: How did you decide to work on the GWS project for your senior design project?

Zack: I originally decided to study environmental engineering because I wanted to provide people in the USA, and abroad with access to clean water. As my time in college progressed, I discovered that I also really enjoy the wastewater side of things, and that there is a big need for improved sanitation worldwide that often goes unnoticed. When I saw the opportunity to be a part of the solution to a wastewater issue in Costa Rica as a senior design project, I could not resist.

L: What type of treatment system did you and your team recommend and how did you decide that was best?

Z: Well to start, here are a few quick things to note about the project, to help readers understand: Costa Rica has few wastewater treatment facilities, many homes are on failing septic systems, so most Costa Rican communities do not know how to operate wastewater facilities. Most communities do have potable water systems, and have successfully managed them for some time now. The particular community that we worked with attracts and depends on revenue from tourists. The fast growing community is seeking to attract even more tourists. Electricity in Costa Rica can be unreliable, and is double the cost of electricity in the USA.

Now to answer your question, we first looked at potential sites, and created a decision matrix as to which site was preferred. We considered items such as odor, whether or not lift station(s) would be needed, the size of the site, and cost and ease of official acquisition to name a few. We wanted to select and design a process that would minimize adverse socioeconomic impacts, capital and O&M costs, power demands, and operator expertise to provide a solution that would fit the community well. In addition, we looked at treatment options that could produce the desired effluent quality and fit onto each of the sites. A mechanical treatment facility such as activated sludge requires a small area, but can be complicated to operate, whereas a lagoon is easy to operate, but requires much more land. The sites that were potentially available had a mixture of desirable and undesirable qualities, so we had to try to find a balance. One of the two finalist sites had a large enough area to fit a completely mixed aerated lagoon, and would require one lift station immediately preceding the treatment facility. However, the site was in prime real estate near the ocean and near the heart of the community, meaning potential for lost tourist revenue, and slower growth. At the time, acquiring the land was no guarantee as well. The other finalist site was too small for a lagoon, and would require a long force main with a higher elevation change than the other finalist site. However, the second finalist site was already owned by the government, was downwind of the community, and the land had little real estate value.

We went with a trickling filter system on the second finalist site that included primary and secondary sedimentation tanks, and an equalization basin. This system is easier to operate than traditional activated sludge, and requires less land than aerated lagoons, so our team felt that this system was a good compromise.

L: In what ways did traveling to Costa Rica with GWS add to what you learned during your undergraduate education, and particularly, your senior design project?

Z: Traveling to Costa Rica with GWS really emphasized the importance of communication, especially communication with various government entities, community members and other stakeholders. An idea is useless if it cannot be communicated accurately to people with different backgrounds and different experiences. I also learned more about the design process throughout the project and then during the visit to Costa Rica. Our team had redesigned our proposed solution a couple times through the semester, and then we ended up having to redesign again after competition as new information came out. We will have to redesign at least one more time due to new information we got during our visit. At times it was frustrating having to change things we had already worked so hard on, but it was good for us to realize that engineers have to be able to adjust and make good decisions as the project changes.

L: I agree the trip was frustrating at times, but definitely an incredible experience. On that note, why did you decide to stay involved in GWS?

Z: I decided to stay with GWS because I believe the work they are doing is going to make a big difference. There are billions of people that lack adequate sanitation, which can lead to preventable illness and disease. To undertake in the mission to try to save lives, and keep our world clean is an honorable cause. In addition, the people of GWS are great to work with. They have a wide variety of skills and backgrounds that I have already greatly benefited from, and I continue to learn from their experiences and guidance.

L: It’s definitely great to work for something you can believe in and be proud of. What are you working on now for GWS?

Z: Right now, I am helping with setting up the next student design competition. Because I went through the competition as a student, I have a unique perspective on how the competition was run, and how it can be improved.

L: And now that you’re done with school and out in the real world, has your work with GWS helped you in your job and if so, how?

Z: I would certainly say GWS has helped me with communication skills. Being exposed to the project, and working with other engineers across the Midwest has forced me to sharpen my communication skills. This has been really important, especially when interacting with contractors and at times, community members.

As a recent graduate, I do not have a ton of experience. GWS has given me an opportunity to gain experience faster than just working a job. From the work that I have done, am doing, and will do along with relationships with other engineers who help me along, I am learning and gaining experience which will pay dividends as I run into various challenges. Even now the additional experience has helped keep me calm when challenges arise, and I can contemplate solutions with a level head.

L: Why did you choose to make water/wastewater your career?

Z: I decided to make a career in water/wastewater for several reasons. I love the outdoors, and want to do my part in stewarding it well. I enjoy the technical side of things in the field. My belief in God has taught me that He wants to provide everyone with their most important needs. I want to reflect that by playing a role in providing people with essential needs such as sanitation and clean water.

L : What advice would you give to students who are about to begin work on their senior design projects?

Z: Find a way to get along with your design team. If you cannot get along with your design team, the project will be rough, and its chance at success will fall. If everyone works well together, the project has a better chance to succeed. Everyone is different, and has unique talents and mindsets that they can bring to the project. When there are conflicts, address them and seek to understand the other side first. I was fortunate in that our design team was able to work together well, which was really good for our project.

Donor Spotlight: Lakeside Equipment Corporation

Every spring, summer, and fall, the GWS team interviews donors and volunteers.  Next up!  For the fall of 2018 – Lakeside Equipment Corporation.

Lakeside Equipment is one of GWS’s newest corporate donors. After learning about GWS from an employee, they decided that ours was a mission worth supporting. Elizabeth Bohne had the opportunity to talk to Warren Kersten, the Vice President of Lakeside Equipment, about his background, Lakeside Equipment, and why he supports Global Water Stewardship. Read on to learn a little more about Warren…

GWS: Tell me how you first got involved in with wastewater work?

Warren: My father was an environmental engineer, so from the time I was three years old he was dragging me around to wastewater plants. I was always interested in nature and protecting the environment. I wanted to follow in my father’s footsteps. We used to fish the Mississippi River together and I would see all the floating debris, and the poor water quality, and wanted to be involved in fixing it.

Growing up and going through high school I always liked science so it was natural for me to continue on to study Biology for my undergraduate degree. I received a scholarship to play football at Augustana University. They did not have an engineering program, but I then went on to South Dakota State University to complete a second Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering and a Master of Science in Environmental engineering. The biology background definitely helped in my masters studies and has helped me further my career as a large portion of the work Lakeside does is in biological wastewater treatment and nutrient removal.

I graduated in 1979. After graduate school I took a job with a consulting firm in Twin Cities, Minnesota where I mostly did wastewater treatment process design. Throughout school I had interned with Lakeside Equipment during the summers. In 1990 they reached out to me and offered me a position with the company. I have been with them now for 28 years.

GWS: Wow! So you’ve really grown with Lakeside. What do you find most challenging about wastewater treatment?

W: I think it’s most challenging, but also most interesting, that each wastewater treatment plant and project is different. Not only that, but I’ve watched the industry develop. I graduated high school in 1972, the year the Clean Water Act was passed, so I’ve watched the industry develop and seen the effluent limits change to become more and more stringent. I’ve worked with Lakeside to help adapt our processes to the changing effluent limits. I remember the first Earth Day! It’s amazing to think back on how much things have changes since then.

GWS: Where does Lakeside mostly work?

W: Most of our product is in the US, but we also have some in Canada, the Caribbean, Mexico, Guam, and the Philippines. We even work at some military bases in Korea.

GWS: What kind of process would you have at a Military base?

W: Typically we use our Closed Loop Reactor (CLR) Process, or more commonly known as the oxidation ditch…But Lakeside provides pretty much everything on the liquid side of wastewater treatment. We have a variety of screens and grit removal options. We even still have trickling filter rotary distributors and in the right conditions they are still the best option. We have clarifiers, oxidation ditches, and we are the only manufacturer that has all three types of screw pumps. We also have SBRs.

GWS: I’m looking at your brochure online right now. It looks like you cover pretty much everything! What do you wish other people knew about Lakeside and wastewater?

W: Lakeside is a company that is 90 years old this year. It has always been employee owned, meaning we have no investors outside the company. Something that I think is really amazing is that the average employee has been here 15 years, which is unheard of these days. We all know each other very well, everyone knows everything about everyone and we are all very comfortable. It’s like a family atmosphere here. I think that it’s real testimony of the environment and company culture we try to keep. It’s been a great place to work for the last 28 years. I am proud that I can look back on my career and feel good about it, and like I have hopefully done something to help preserve the environment and make the world a better place.

GWS: What’s your personal philosophy on what should be done about availability of wastewater treatment in the developing world?

W: I have taken a number of trips to the Philippines. It was shocking to see the lack of wastewater treatment and solid waste disposal. I was there 28 years ago and at that point only about 5% had clean drinking water. Now I believe it’s up to 95%, however wastewater treatment is severely lacking. I’m kind of an amateur photographer so I have lots of photos of what is getting dumped into the streams and eventually into the ocean. I have a photo of a river where you can’t even see water surface because of all the debris and another of a littered beach with people swimming in the water. Something that really is apparent from traveling in developing countries is the distribution of wealth in the world. Even the poorest people in the United States have more wealth than half the planet. I think it’s very important that we recognize this and help other nations who are not as fortunate as we are in this regard. The planet is our responsibility to protect. Lakeside is very committed to the environment. We want to be good stewards and help other people.

GWS: Is there anything else you would like to tell me about Lakeside or your choice to support GWS?

W: We realize the importance of wastewater treatment worldwide. Even though we don’t do much a ton of international work, we believe that supporting the effort is very important. We want to show that we believe in it through helping out wherever we can. This is why we always support WEF and exhibit at every conference. We also try to exhibit at all of the state organization conferences because we know that the exhibit money goes back to the organization and helps support programs like yours [GWS]. I have learned from traveling overseas shows how blessed we are and I want to help others realize that. My kids are grown now but when they were growing up if they complained about something I would show them a photo of Manila [Philippines] to get them to realize how lucky we are and that we often take it for granted. I hope that I can continue to instill that idea in others through my work with Lakeside and organizations such as GWS.

GWS: That’s great to hear. I agree with you, we are very lucky and sometimes forget to realize that. It’s great to talk to someone who really believes in what we are doing, not just as GWS but the wastewater industry as a whole. Sometimes it seems like people get bogged down with permit limits and regulations and forget the big picture, that we are trying to protect our waterways and reduced water pollution. Thank you so much for sharing your story with us and thank you so much for supporting GWS!