Today in India, you cannot operate a boiler without a certified operator, but you can operate a wastewater treatment plant without such a certification requirement. Our
regulators, the Pollution Control Boards (PCBs), do not think that it is critical to insist that operators running the wastewater treatment plants have the necessary training.
Programs for training and certification for operation of wastewater treatment plants have matured over the decades in countries such as Germany (i.e. the German Association for Water, Wastewater and Waste or DWA) and United States of America (i.e. the Water Environment Federation). In these countries, certification of operators of wastewater treatment plants is a full-fledged industry and a career for young professionals.
I do not know how many wastewater treatment plants are ‘registered’ or are under the scanner of PCBs in India. I don’t recall any recent work done on such an inventorization on a national scale. But as a guesstimate, the number could well be close to a 100,000. And if we assume an average of 4 operators at each treatment plant, then we are talking about training and employment of 400,000 to 500,000 young professionals!!
Employment however is not the objective here. The idea is to improve compliance and professional management of the ‘treatment plant’ to make it worth its investment. Performance evaluations of Sewage Treatment Plans (STPs) and Common Effluent Treatment Plants (CETPs) in India have clearly concluded that sloppy operation of treatment works and absence of professional training are the principal reasons for noncompliance and not as much the faults with technology or design. Following are some of the findings of such evaluations:
- Out of the 152 STPs, 30 STPs non-operational and performance of 28 STPs not
satisfactory. (CPCB, 2013)
- In 2005, the Central Pollution Control Board studied the performance of 78 CETPs operating throughout the country. Only 20 (i.e. 25.6%) complied with the prescribed
limits for general parameters pH, BOD, COD and TSS but 15 of these were not able to comply with the prescribed limit for TDS.
Who should take the lead in designing and conducting training programs for treatment plant operators? How do we make certification a requirement? These are important questions to answer.
I have been lobbying for the above steps for past 2 decades and have attempted models through PCBs, roping Industrial Training Institutions (ITIs) in India. One of the major constraints that were found was absence of trainers and involvement of industry associations.
To address these concerns, I recently launched a Training of Trainers programme with the support of DWA and GIZ, Maharashtra Pollution Control Board and CETP Company of the Thane Belapur Industries Association (TBIA). We just completed a 2-day training program
for Trainers, who were Senior Chemists and Supervisors of the ETPs/CETPs in the TBIA. Another sixmodule training programme will be conducted for the operators, on the same lines in January 2015. The content of this training programme was developed based on a Training Needs Assessment workshop that was conducted with industries, equipment suppliers, regulators and academia. The idea is to offer these modules twice a week in the evenings over six weeks with practical sessions at ETPs/CETPs. A neighborhood concept will be used for networking, keeping CETPs as the nuclei. See below
Training and certification of the treatment of operators can help bridge the gap between ‘theory’ and ‘practice’. Today, the design guidelines in India are not based on the actual performance of the wastewater treatment plants. Again, the field data is generally limited to the final discharge point i.e. end of the pipe – and not collated and analyzed to assess the performance of individual treatment units e.g. a clarifier. For instance, we do not have design graphs that are built on actual field performance data between say overflow rate or weir loading rate to the removal of Suspended Solids and BOD. Hopefully, once a system of
operator certification is introduced, we could build such a ‘culture’ and identify treatment plants wherein such data could be pooled. These plants, called ‘research plants’ could be interfaced with academia where students and faculty could work to develop design and performance equations – something really required for improving our understanding of the process and practice. Importantly, such data over national scale will lead to building benchmarks – e.g. on energy consumption– and provide guidance for optimization of costs and improving the performance.
So the advantage in introducing training and certification of operators could be multi-fold:
- Better compliance
- New job opportunities
- Savings in costs
- Help in Knowledge Creation
- Build New partnerships
So let us work together to achieve these objectives. I would urge you to take this as a mission at the national level.