Home .Empowering Pumps Operations Challenge: Water and Wastewater Professionals ‘Work their Magic’ at the KSB...

Operations Challenge: Water and Wastewater Professionals ‘Work their Magic’ at the KSB Maintenance Events


Article Contributed by KSB, Inc. – with Special Thanks to the Water Environment Federation and WEF Member Associations

The furious sawing of sewer pipes. The rapid analysis of multi-colored vials. The expeditious dismantling of a submersible pump. The swift rescue of a downed “co-worker” while teammates close off several valves. The magnitude and complexity of the effort required to safely provide clean water and sanitation services is on full, fast-paced display at the Operations Challenge – a program that celebrates the Water and Wastewater Professionals that have such a profound impact on our daily lives.

With approximately 119,200 water and wastewater treatment plant and system operators working in the United States1, the Operations Challenge gives these professionals an opportunity to demonstrate their skills and abilities to effectively deliver clean water and sanitation services to their local communities. Celebrating its 31st year, the Operations Challenge takes people who typically work in anonymity and isolation, and launches them into the limelight – enhancing visibility for an invisible industry and elevating water and sanitation as a global priority.

“The lack of these services would have profound consequences for public health and our quality of life,” states Steve Harrison, Senior Manager of Operator Programs for the Water Environment Federation (WEF), a not-for-profit organization and leading advocate for water sector innovation working since 1928 to protect public health and the environment. “I am in awe of the work that the people in this industry do,” shares Steve. “There is no greater disparity between the importance of one’s job and the prestige of one’s job as there is for the water quality profession. I am astounded by their talent, dedication, and generosity in this business. This is a motivating factor in designing the Operations events – to both challenge and showcase the numerous talents of Water Quality Professionals across the country, who are truly ‘unsung’ heroes!”

These heroes have to compete in qualifying events leading up to the Operations Challenge at WEFTEC (taking place this year in New Orleans from September 29th through October 3rd), which will see approximately 50 teams from 25 Member Associations compete for the national championship. These qualifying events evaluate individual teams as they demonstrate their skills in distribution / collection systems, laboratory, safety, process control, and maintenance. KSB has collaborated with WEF to develop the KSB Maintenance Event, the portion of the Operations Challenge that tests the skills of a maintenance team to respond to trouble at a simulated sanitary sewer lift station.


“KSB proposed a challenge unlike any other performed in the past,” explains Sherry Heinly with KSB North America. “This is the first time in the history of the Operations Challenge that the pump used in the maintenance event will be energized.

KSB is providing the entire simulated ‘pump station’, including a control panel and a water-filled tank containing either a 230- or 460-volt Amarex KRT Pump – depending upon the power determination at each site hosting the events. Pumps used in past simulations were not in actual operation because these events are typically hosted inside conference centers. “It’s difficult because we want the tasks to be technically accurate, but we have to make some concessions for being in an exhibit hall,” declares Harrison. “This is why we’re so excited to have an energized pumping scenario in 2018 and all the way through to 2021.”

Weighing 2,225 lbs., the portable ‘lift station’ used in the KSB Maintenance Event establishes the scenario that sets up the tasks for each competing team of water / wastewater professionals – teams that are diverse in age, race, gender, and skillsets. In this timed maintenance challenge, the premise guiding each member of the team is that the “utility” has experienced problems that have triggered an alarm through the SCADA system. The 4-person maintenance team must troubleshoot the electrical control panel, exercise safety protocols (lock out / tag out, etc.), perform maintenance on the KSB submersible pump, and restore the pump station back to normal operating conditions.

The galvanic aspect of the KSB Maintenance Event is that it’s designed with true-to-life wastewater challenges in mind. The Engineers at KSB purposefully designed the Operations Challenge Maintenance Event around current “clogging” issues being addressed by the wastewater industry. In this scenario, the Wastewater Operators have to deal with a pumping station that is experiencing problems caused by “flushable” wipes.

“’Flushable’ wipes have led to countless numbers of sanitary sewer overflows and additional maintenance and overtime by wastewater workers to keep our wastewater systems up and running,” explains Steve Motley, Engineering Division Manager with the City of Virginia Beach and Operations Challenge Maintenance Event Coordinator. Motley, who first participated in the Operations Challenge in 2003, went on to win five consecutive Division 1 Championships between 2010 and 2015 along with his Terminal Velocity teammate, Donnie Cagle. In 2016, Motley and Cagle were part of a USA ‘All-Star’ Team assembled by WEF to compete at IFAT in Munich, Germany. Joined by Dale Burrow and coached by Dave Vogel, the USA team was sponsored by KSB and won the 2016 German Open Championship. “After the success of winning IFAT in Germany, I was invited to be the next Operations Challenge Maintenance Event Coordinator,” explains Motley. “I was very excited to have the opportunity to work with KSB and come up with this new event to give back to a community that I feel has given so much to me. I worked with KSB on developing the new event for WEFTEC featuring KSB pumps and the new F-Max Impeller. These “flushable” wipes that wastewater facilities deal with are resistant, flexible, and not designed to be quickly disintegrated in a sanitary sewer system. In fact, they tend to stretch and braid themselves together in the sanitary sewer system until they ultimately cause a system failure or a clogging problem with the pumps.”


To combat this issue of varied sewage composition and solids-heavy wastewater, KSB made available to the market in 2016 the Amarex KRT Submersible Pump with a range of engineered impellers designed to accommodate specific wastewater requirements. For the KSB Maintenance Events planned over the next 4 years, the Amarex KRT Pumps will be utilizing F-Max Impellers, which have an asymmetrical blade arrangement that creates wide, free passages to ensure large, rigid solids pass easily through the pump.

“The F-max impeller has been carefully designed to create turbulence at the impeller center, where velocities are typically zero and solids tend to collect,” explains Julie Lewicki Ballard, P.E Project Engineering Manager – Water & Wastewater, KSB, Inc. “When they rotate, the free-flow F-Max impellers create a strong swirling effect in the hub area. This, along with the sloping back shroud design, shifts fibers away from the impeller hub, significantly reducing the risk of clogging.” Addressing the prevalence of non-woven fabrics in the wastewater sector, the KSB Maintenance Event is making operations personnel aware of the technologies available to deal with these challenges.

KSB F-max Impeller Combines Reliability and Efficiency

“It’s great we have partners like KSB coming to us, seeing the opportunity to collaborate. I remember in the ‘old days’ having to beg for equipment,” declares John Bennett, volunteer Vice Chair of the WEF Operations Challenge and Plant Manager with Trinity River Authority in TexasBennett (left), who had indifferently pursued an operator-in-training program right after graduating high school, got ‘drafted’ onto one of Trinity River Authority’s first teams in 1994. The experience ignited his passion for the industry and motivated his continued involvement; he served as a past president of the Water Environment Association of Texas (WEAT) and as a WEF delegate and fellow. Having been an active Operations Challenge participant and a coach to both the TRA Waste Warriors and the TRA CreWSers (who recently won 1st Place overall in Division 1 at the 30th annual #OpsChallenge at #TXwater18), Bennett continues to generously promote cross-collaboration between Water and Wastewater professionals. Ahead of the WEAT Operations Challenge hosted at the 2018 Texas Water Conference in April, Trinity River Authority invited several teams to practice at their facility in preparation for the KSB Maintenance Event, including the Austin Bat City Water Works team, the City of North Richland Hills’ Pooseidons, and two other teams from the City of Houston’s Public Works Department – the Bayou City Brawlers and the Drip Squad. “In the 30-year history of the Operations Challenge, I am most proud of developing leaders – which happens with every consecutive competition.”

Eileen O’Neill, Executive Director at Water Environment Federation, and Julie Hunt, Assistant Regional Manager/Operations at Trinity River Authority

While many of the individuals participating in the Operations Challenge have competed in prior years, there are always new members volunteering or winning plant “try-outs”. “It’s fantastic seeing the newer team members being mentored by their more experienced teammates, watching the knowledge transfer and the intensity of their preparations,” shares Julia Hunt, Assistant Northern Region Manager for Trinity River Authority. “The Operations Challenge consists of practical applications, which ends up making them really great operators at their facilities. They are stronger when they have to study, learn and practice for these events – it reinforces their knowledge and makes them better equipped to deal with issues that present themselves in the day-to-day.”

Jim Borton, volunteer Chairman for WEF Operations Challenge and Director of Consulting for Jacobs, adds, “The skills competition is a training tool that reaches this sector of industry more effectively than anything I’ve ever seen! Having KSB personnel on-site at each Maintenance Event is great for the cross-collaboration required for the fine-tuning of details for the WEFTEC Operations Challenge in October. We are grateful to KSB for their comprehensive support at all the qualifying events leading up to and at the WEFTEC Operations Challenge.”

Follow Along on Social Media using the hashtags #KSBMaintenanceEvent #OpsChallenge #WEFTEC





1 Bureau of Labor Statistics: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/production/water-and-wastewater-treatment-plant-and-system-operators.htm#tab-6


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here