Enterprise’s wastewater treatment plant is among the best facilities in the state. Dave Wilke, the man who runs it, just received the prestigious Wastewater Operator of the Year award from the Oregon Association of Wastewater Utilities.
Converting liquid household waste into crystal-clear water might not seem like an inspiring career, but after almost 19 years at the job, Wilke’s enthusiasm for his work is palpable.
Transforming the stuff of kitchen sinks, garbage disposals, toilets, and industrial drains into a pollution-free liquid that meets drinking-water standards is nothing short of miraculous. Wilke is a master of the highly technical and mechanically-complex wizardry that makes this possible.
Wilke’s job includes operating and repairing equipment, gathering and testing samples, and charting the results.
Certified as a Level III Treatment Plant Operator, he completes several training classes to update his skills each year., and commands an impressive array of machines and electronics, not to mention billions of hard working bacteria.
“We treat more than 200,000 gallons of wastewater each day,” he said. “The state requires that 65 percent of the pollutants be removed. Our system regularly removes 97 to 98 percent. Sometimes it’s 100 percent which means we are putting out drinking-water quality.”
When it arrives at Wilke’s plant, the stuff that goes down your drains is run through an Archimedes screw mechanism that removes plastic and other solid materials. The remaining liquid circulates in aeration tanks, goes through additional biological and physical processes to reduce nitrogen, settle solids, restore dissolved oxygen, and ensure the refurbished water is clear. The treated water is run past a powerful ultraviolet light that kills E. Coli and other pathogens before it’s released.
In the summertime, the treatment plant’s clean, healthy discharge is used to irrigate the conveniently-close golf course. When winter come around, the treated water is channeled into the Wallowa River.
Wilke is no stranger to awards. In 2011 he received the Aero-Mod Excellence in Operations Award. It recognizes those who are ultra-good at running the water purification systems used at the Enterprise Waster Water Treatment Facility and elsewhere around the globe.
In 2009 Wilke garnered the Pacific Northwest section of the American Waterworks Association award for Waste Water Operator of the Year.
How can those of us who live in Enterprise make Wilke’s job easier and keep the treated wastewater going onto the Golf Course or into the Wallowa River super-clean?
“Please don’t pour bacon grease down the drains,” Wilke said. Or any grease, for that matter. It clogs pipes in an otherwise smoothly running plant, creating backups, overflows, filtration problems, and a big mess.
He also mentioned that pouring large quantities of beer down the drain can interfere with the microbes that digest waste products. But that, he noted, usually isn’t much of a problem.