The school year is flying by and many around the State of Wisconsin are preparing and studying for water and wastewater operator certification exams. The exams are held in November and May.

As I teach many of the prospective operators in both disciplines, a subject that comes to mind is related to mathematics. Math is used in many career areas, and the same applies to the water and wastewater industries. When preparing for the exam, math will be worth reviewing and understanding. With today’s spreadsheets, hidden formulas, automated recording and other tools utilizing our various technologies, math behind the scenes is sometimes a forgotten skill.

But I will share a couple of stories with you that identifies the need to recall and utilize this skill. The good news is that Moraine Park Technical College’s Water Quality Technology program and water operator certification preparatory courses cover the operator related math and formulas well.

One day a couple summers ago, I was fishing on a nearby river. On my way down the hill to the river, I noticed water utility workers preparing their work site. Valves were closed some distance away from the hydrant which was down near the river where I was planning to fish. Workers shared their estimates of how long it would take to dewater the pipeline using the hydrant. Their estimates ranged from 5 to 15 minutes, with a supervisors input and guess at 20 minutes. I thought about their estimates and applied the formula for calculating the square feet in a cylinder, converted that to gallons by using 7.48 gallons per cubic feet, estimated the water flow from the hydrant, and thought to myself that it would take about 2.5 hours.

All 5 utility employees waited as the water drained with great anticipation. I fished. And fished some more. It was a wonderful day to be on the river enjoying some down time. Approximately 2 hours and 20 minutes later, the hydrant stopped flowing. Math and related water industry formulas used regularly in hydraulics, gave credence to my estimate, but also shed light on the lack of use in this professional setting. A common formula, which went unused, would have provided the group with a much better estimate in their dewatering efforts.

Another story I would like to share was about my early days in the profession.

I was busy studying for exams and reading many publications as study material. There was some confusion on my part about psi and when to use the conversion factors. The way I looked at it then was there are two conversions possible, which one and when should I apply each option. A great person that I worked with was very helpful as I learned about facilities and related systems. So I asked him about which conversion factor is used and when would it be applied. Examples would really help, as I do like application of information. He told me a story about an elevated tank being 100ft in the air, corresponding to the same water level.

The gentleman preferred using 2.31 ft/psi. He explained that if you fell off, you would be all divided up… so divide feet by 2.31 ft/psi to find the psi.

On the flip side, if looking at a pressure gauge below the tank, it would take multiples of you to climb on each other’s shoulders to find the height or water level, so multiply by 2.31 ft/psi to find the height in feet of water level. He went on to state that he liked that conversion better than the 0.433 psi/ft conversion value as using 2.31 seemed to make sense and by rounding it to just 2.0 ft/psi, he could quickly make estimates that would be inaccurate, but close. 100 feet divided by 2 is 50psi, very close to the accurate 43.3 psi value. Quickly multiplying psi by 2 would also give you a quick estimate for feet of water.

Now I know the use of the conversions and know where they come from and why those values are conversions. Back then, I was young and inquisitive and wanted to know all about this interesting profession. He helped me with his stories.

That interest carries on today.

Besides math, science, chemistry, hydraulics, laboratory, equipment maintenance, and other necessary skills are taught during the Moraine Park Technical College’s Water Quality Technology program. An accredited associate’s degree, that not only helps you find employment, but employment in a challenging and interesting career field. A field that not only provides sustainable quality drinking water, but treated waste streams that are discharged back to the receiving stream as a quality product that does not negatively impact the environment.

This is truly one of the first sustainable career professions. If you want to make an impact, this may be a great option for you. And as an instructor in the program, I will share more stories and help you learn this all important profession and related criteria and skills. That is my promise.

Written by Mark Schmidt
Mark Schmidt is the Water Quality Technology Instructor at Moraine Park Technical College in Fond du Lac Wisconsin. Mark has 40 years of experience in water and wastewater facility and systems operations, maintenance and management. Marks specialty prior to teaching was surface water treatment plant optimization, but now enjoys teaching the next generation of water quality professionals and those in the field desiring knowledge and advancement opportunities.