This week, teams competed head-to-head in Operations Challenge at the Water Environment Federation’s Technical Exhibition and Conference (WEFTEC) in Chicago, vying for the “World’s Best Operators” title. Jim Borton shares his perspective as the new committee vice chair.

By: Jim Borton, Senior Operations Specialist, CH2M HILL

Every year at WEFTEC, one of the big highlights of the conference is the Ops Challenge, when teams vie for the title of “World’s Best Operators”.  To earn the title, teams must compete in a pentathlon consisting of a series of events, including process control, laboratory, maintenance, collections and most importantly to us at CH2M HILL, safety. The teams that win are those that can complete the events in the least amount of time with the fewest mistakes (which are assessed as time penalties and added to the team’s time).  It takes both brains and brawn to complete the events as each one has some form of written test to complete as well.

So what do the events consist of and how fast can the best teams complete it?

  1. Process Control –consists of a 35 page test with questions ranging from simple multiple choice to complex treatment troubleshooting calculations and is led by Mike Ross, CH2M HILL Operations & Maintenance Consultant. Teams are given 20 minutes to complete the test, and to date no team has attempted an answer to each question. This is done by design so that the fastest and most knowledgeable teams come out on top.
  2. Laboratory – teams must set up a seeded CBOD5 test, including calibrating meters, calculating another set of completed tests and reading the initial dissolved oxygen readings on all of the newly filled bottled. The best teams can complete this in about 5 minutes.
  3. Maintenance – teams must simulate the repair of a submersible pump and mixer while following proper safety protocols and completing a test on the pump specifications. The best teams can complete this in less than 5.5 minutes.
  4. Collection – teams must repair a simulated in service sewer line and install a new tap with saddle and compete a test based on camera shots from sewer line videos. Teams use only hand tools to complete the event in less than 1 minute and 15 seconds.
  5. Safety – teams must enter a confined space, rescue a fallen “co-worker” and perform CPR with an AED. This includes the set up and tear down of the confined space entry apparatus. The winning teams did this under 4 minutes.

The Operations Challenge is a unique event and one that I always look forward to. I was recently appointed WEF Operations Challenge Committee Vice Chair, and this appointment is a natural progression in my mind from being a competitor for 15 years, to my current involvement in Ohio, the WEF Process Control Event. I am excited about my role in helping coordinate the overall committee to keep the contest one of the must see events at WEFTEC and finding innovative ways to keep the competition exciting.  In addition, as a committee member, and in the role of Vice Chair, I will assist in developing new events for the contest as the events are on a 3 year rotation, meaning that at least one of the 5 individual contest events changes each year.  I will be responsible for helping find vendors to provide equipment, drafting contest rules, and soliciting feedback from others involved in the process, and finding people who are willing to coordinate the event.

I spent this week at WEFTEC “in training” for my future role(s).  I had the opportunity to watch friends and former fellow competitors push the limits of the rules to gain any advantage they could.  For the first time, I watched the events from the elevated stage and gained an entirely different perspective of the events I used to participate in.  It was at that point I had a new appreciation for what I used to do and for what these teams still do.  I had the opportunity to spend time with Dave Vogel, CH2M HILL Operations & Maintenance Business Development Manager, and my committee chairperson, Stacy Metzler, Hampton Roads Sewer District, working on the scoring and ranking of the teams. It’s amazing how close these contests can be! It’s quite a competition.

Jim Borton is a graduate of The Ohio State University (B.S. in Natural Resources) and the University of Maryland (M.S. in Environmental Science/Business Management).He has worked more than 20 years as an environmental regulator, wastewater troubleshooter/trainer and water/wastewater facilities manager in the public sector and joined CH2M HILL in April 2012 as a Senior Operations Specialist. While at CH2M HILL, Jim was part of the NYCDEP Cat/Del UV Disinfection Plant Startup/Commissioning Team as a Control Room Lead Operator and is currently part of the Teck Coal Selenium Removal Pilot Project Operations team in Elkford, B.C., Canada. In 1998, while working for Ohio EPA, he was part of the first ever Operations Challenge team at WEFTEC made up solely by employees from a regulatory agency, and in 2005, with the City of Wooster, Ohio, was part of a National Championship team in the Operations Challenge.