MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Va. --
To err is human, and there’s nothing human about an automated spreadsheet. That’s why Paul Redden, plant supervisor at the Quantico Advanced Wastewater Treatment Plant, lets a computer program do all his calculating for him, a system that recently caught the attention and praise of inspectors from the Environmental Protection Agency.
As inspectors for Region 3 of the EPA’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System were checking out various facilities throughout the Mid-Atlantic region, they wanted to stop at a federal government facility and chose the Quantico plant, because it had earned credits for clean water that were then used to make up for overages at another facility, said Steven Maslowski, the EPA enforcement officer who led the team of three inspectors.
“They had an electronic spreadsheet that was pretty darn good,” he said, following the team’s Jan. 14 visit. “We didn’t find any errors.”
Maslowski said it’s not uncommon for facilities to enter water quality data manually, and inspectors frequently find errors in transcription that lead to faulty results.
At Quantico, he said, “They have a nice spreadsheet that basically does all the calculations for them.”
“It’s just using an elaborate Excel program to basically automate and reduce down in errors that normally occur with those reports,” Redden said. “It drastically reduces the human error.”
He said the monthly discharge monitoring reports to the state and the EPA are complicated affairs, including daily and monthly averages and maximums of a variety of substances, leaving plenty of room for mistakes.
“There are a whole lot of parameters we have to meet and we have to monitor,” he said.
The credits that drew the EPA’s attention were granted for the plant’s low phosphorus output.
With a limit of 1,206 pounds of phosphorus it could release for the year, Quantico’s plant only discharged 153 pounds, Redden said. The difference was transferred to Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren, whose plant had exceeded its limit due to high phosphorus content of the groundwater there, he said, adding that this arrangement had been used for the last couple of years.
“We’re all on the same team here,” Redden said.
Quantico’s plant also released only 8,526 pounds of its 20,101-pound maximum for nitrogen, but he said there were no takers for that credit.
The facilities at both the Quantico and Dahlgren empty into the Potomac River, which in turn flows into the protected Chesapeake Bay. Dahlgren now has a new phosphorus reduction system.
Phosphorus and nitrogen are nutrients that can feed algae blooms, which are the most serious problem facing the bay. The algae prevents sunlight from penetrating the surface of the water, causing the plant life below to die and decay, a process that sucks the oxygen from the water, creating dead zones.
The Quantico plant, built in the 1940s, is in the midst of a $7 million upgrade, and Redden said the workers stay busy dealing with complications due to renovations or the plant’s old age. “This is a very old plant, and there are a lot of upgrade issues we’ve got to grab around the neck right now,” he said.
“We try to stay on our plant processes as much as possible and prevent problems from happening,” said Redden.
Maslowski said the EPA will release the final report on its visit in February or March.
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