By David Paul

At 6 p.m., it’s usually time for dinner for most people. For others, it’s time to relax in front of the TV or go to the local sports bar. For many, it was a bad day at work; for others, a great day.

At 8 a.m. most Saturdays, it’s usually time to sleep late or grab a round of golf. For others, it’s time for household chores. Was it the end of a rewarding, challenging week for you or the end of a mind-numbing, back-breaking, repetitive, low-paying work week?

For 50 sometimes-weary work warriors in Yuma, Ariz., it was time to make a change. Ranging in ages from 18-to-“fiftysomething,” they use their government-issued student security badges to access a sliding gate two evenings a week and Saturday mornings to enter their high tech training arena—the largest reverse osmosis (RO) water treatment plant in the world, the Yuma Desalting Plant.

Mexico treaty to WQIC
Owned by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (USBR) and constructed by the federal government over an 18-year period (1974-1992), the $256 million plant is designed to operate when either of two conditions occurs:

  1. When salinity of the Colorado River water entering Mexico at the Arizona/California border is higher than allowable treaty limits and the river water must be diluted; and/or
  2. When drought conditions in the Southwest make it impossible for the USBR to meet allocations to U.S. water users, plus treaty obligations, without additional makeup water.

The plant operates on a feed stream of relatively high saline agricultural wastewater, generated during cultivation of the vast amount of farmland in the area. The wastewater comes from a large number of pumps that continuously keep the wastewater below the root zone of the crops. RO membranes remove the bulk of the dissolved and suspended solids from the feed water and the permeate flows into the Colorado River. The concentrate stream travels by lined canal into Mexico’s Santa Clara Marsh, an International Biosphere project, where the water nourishes the wetlands located there.

The management and staff of the USBR office in Yuma have continually sought to find ways to use the facility to create the greatest value to the U.S. public. In 1997, the Water Quality Improvement Center (WQIC) was created at the Yuma Desalting Plant. The WQIC is a research center only a hundred yards or so from the RO water treatment plant, a facility that’s capable of treating 72 million gallons per day (mgd)—or 50,000 gallons per minute (gpm).
The research center began as a 1-mgd pilot plant for the main 72-mgd plant. The research conducted at the plant allowed the USBR to determine the most efficient operation of the main plant. In 1997, the pilot facility was upgraded with more space and equipment, and was converted into the WQIC to be used by various companies in the United States on a cost-sharing basis. Many high tech water treatment equipment systems are used here. Research by the USBR, however, still continues using the 1-mgd original pilot plant as well.

An educational mission
In 1998, continuing its value-added service, the USBR decided to provide training programs at the plant. They contacted two organizations—Arizona Western College and David H. Paul, Inc.

Arizona Western College is the adult educational backbone of southwestern Arizona and southeastern California. In addition to being the area’s premier two-year community college, it’s also a local branch of Northern Arizona University. David H. Paul, Inc.—a leading industrial water treatment training company—has trained thousands of water professionals worldwide, creating textbooks, labs and interactive training aids for this program. Instructors from David Paul, each with years of practical experience, teach the program.

With the decision to create a hands-on water treatment training program came the responsibility to house it and provide equipment. The USBR built the WQIC Training Facility between the huge RO facility and the smaller research center. It contains three classrooms, a computer lab and instructor offices. The training facility and the process areas where students train are called the Yuma Desalting Plant Campus.

Advanced treatment training
Even though all of the water treatment classes are held at the Yuma Desalting Plant, the program is part of Arizona Western College’s Associate of Applied Science in Advanced Water Treatment (AWT) degree program. The program consists of four semesters of training. Table 1 details the curriculum.

Students are in the classroom for only four hours per week. The emphasis of the program is practical, hands-on training. Students work in microbiological and analytical laboratories and work with real water treatment equipment for five hours per week.

The USBR allows the students to use certain equipment in both the main plant and the research center.

Dedicated, motivated students
So, who would want to give up two evenings a week for 32 weeks a year for two years, or alternatively, who would want to give up 64 Saturdays over the same timeframe? It requires dedicated, motivated people who know the investment in time will pay off, with interest.

Knowledge and experience of high tech water treatment can lead to a very lucrative career. The power generation, pharmaceutical, health and beauty, biotech, semiconductor, beverage, technical service, water treatment chemical and many other industries require trained personnel to operate, maintain, manage and troubleshoot high-purity water treatment systems. Additionally, there are many high-paying jobs in marketing, sales, installation, startup and technical service of water treatment components and systems.

Regular salaries in the industrial water treatment field are traditionally over $50,000 per year. In addition to great salaries, generous benefit packages are frequently provided. Information about salaries and benefits are obtained annually from members of the Industrial Water Treatment Advisory Board who oversee the training programs. Its 1999 survey indicated almost all starting salaries were $36,000-to-50,000.

Dual advisory board
In addition to the AWT degree program at Yuma, David H. Paul Inc. works with the San Juan College in Farmington, N.M., to offer an Industrial Water Treatment (INWT) degree program. The programs share a significant portion of the same curriculum. The AWT program provides more membrane water treatment training, while the INWT program provides more training on other industrial water treatment technologies such as ion exchange applications.
Both programs are overseen by an advisory board with members from over two dozen companies including: Abbott Labs, Advanced Micro Devices, Alamo Water Refiners, Calgon, Culligan, Ecolochem, Eli Lilly, Ionics, Intel, Merck, Motorola, Osmonics, Pharmacia & Upjohn, Procter & Gamble and USFilter. The ultimate interest and goal of every board member is exactly one thing—training and hiring of the graduates.

Once a year the advisory board meets in either Farmington or Yuma to discuss the current status of the programs and any changes members would like. Additionally, student interviews are conducted. At the Sept. 9, 1999, Advisory Board meeting, however, the pickings were slim. Of the first class scheduled to graduate in December, less than half the students were present. The other half had already gotten jobs prior to graduation. Students employed prior to graduation are receiving their degrees through the correspondence degree program.

The training in both the AWT and INWT programs covers water treatment in general and is completely applicable for experience in how to handle different feed waters for point-of-use/point-of-entry (POU/POE) applications. Actual residential equipment is used in some labs. The main thrust of the programs, however, is learning how to operate, monitor, maintain and troubleshoot industrial high-tech water treatment systems.  

Graduates of either program are excellent candidates for POU/POE-based companies that want to hire people who walk in the door with practical knowledge of water treatment and practical experience with water treatment equipment. Graduates supply special value to companies who are in, or want to expand into, the commercial or industrial arena.

Conclusion
Programs discussed in this article are meeting the needs of the industry for water treatment-specific degree
programs. They are win-win for both employers and graduates. The graduates go to school for only two years, as opposed to four at a university.  Employers will hire graduates whose academic curriculum consists of 55-to-60 percent water treatment-specific credit hours, as opposed to hiring a person with a bachelor’s of science degree—typically from a program that includes almost no specific water treatment training.

About the author
David Paul is president of David H. Paul Inc., an advanced water treatment training and consulting firm in Farmington, N.M. Paul has over 22 years of experience in advanced water treatment and has published over 100 technical articles and papers. His company has trained thousands of water professionals worldwide and created two on-campus college degree programs in advanced water treatment. 

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