Operating at a Higher Level

Coeur d’Alene’s Larry Parsons guides his collection department to greater efficiency and stronger operating standards.
Operating at a Higher Level
Larry Parsons, collection system supervisor for the City of Coeur d’Alene Wastewater Collection department.

Interested in Cleaning?

Get Cleaning articles, news and videos right in your inbox! Sign up now.

Cleaning + Get Alerts

Before Larry Parsons arrived at the City of Coeur d’Alene (Idaho) Collection System de-partment, maintenance work was done only when needed — mainly in emergency cases.

“We were reactive when I came to work here; we had a lot of emergency call-outs for sewer backups and lift station backups,” Parsons says.

Parsons, the collection system supervisor, joined the department in 1989 as a collection  operator after working first in the construction business for eight years in Seattle and working for two years for King County, Wash. at one of their water and sewer districts.

Parsons says he was working on a subdivision in a district near Seattle when the City of Coeur d’Alene offered him a job as an equipment operator. “I had a wife and one young child at that time and realized that it was time for something more secure, and I really liked doing the work. I don’t think I worked for them for more than a month when they moved me over into full-time inspection.”

Focus on maintenance

The first thing he changed was how maintenance was handled. He didn’t enjoy going to customers’ houses and helping them with sewer backups in their basements, so he focused on preventing those situations.

“We got very aggressive and got ahead of the game, so to speak, and did a lot of jetting and TVing and we’ve cut the emergency calls per year by 75 percent,” Parsons says. “We used to have a lot of emergency calls.”

Parsons notes that the utility has two jetting trucks — a 2006 Vac-Con combo unit with a 1,200-gallon water tank and 9-cubic-yard debris tank, and a 2012 AquaTech (Hi-Vac Corporation). The AquaTech truck is out nearly every day doing maintenance work. “It’s our workhorse, we have it running all the time.”

Other equipment includes: a Sreco rodding truck, a 2,000-gallon tanker truck built by Erickson Co. of Washington, and a CCTV truck built on a Ford 450 chassis with equipment from Marathon and software from POSM.

Parsons says he generally works with five technicians on a rotating schedule where one man moves to the treatment plant every week for two days.

“We try to make this routine around here, but I hate using the word routine because it’s never routine,” Parsons says. “We try to stay ahead of maintenance on equipment and lift stations.”

The city is fortunate in that it only has 10 lift stations — some neighboring communities have upwards of 30 to 40, according to Parsons.

“Our treatment plant was built in 1939. It was the first treatment plant on the Spokane River and it was built at that time in the lowest part of the city, right on the river, which made a lot of sense,” says Sid Fredrickson, wastewater superintendent for the city. “Unfortunately, our neighboring community of Post Falls built their treatment plant in the 1970s and the only land available was the highest point in town, so everything has to be pumped to get there.”

Parsons says the key is staying ahead of any problems that may arise.

“After 24 years here, I know the system pretty well. We pretty much have the problem areas nailed down so we know where those are,” Parsons says. “If you don’t see our name in the local paper, it means we’re doing our job.”

Big projects

With about 210 miles of piping ranging from vitrified clay tile to unreinforced concrete to PVC, it was important for Coeur d’Alene to have an accurate map of the collection  system.

The city just completed a long-range master plan study of the system, which included three main focuses: integrating a GIS mapping system for the collection  system, hydraulic modeling for system capacity and developing a capital improvement plan.

Fredrickson says consultants graded the city’s collection system at a B-, which is impressive with the wide-ranging age of the pipes.

“It’s like Johnny Cash’s ‘One Piece at a Time’ song,” Fredrickson says. “The pipes range from 1906 to present day. 1906 is when the first sewer lines were put into the city.”

The GIS mapping project was just completed recently, and it was a significant step for the city.

“When Larry and I started here, we had an 11 by 17 map, hand-drawn, that had not been updated for at least 20 years,” says Fredrickson. “It was not done on a coordinate, geometry basis and it was all basically cartoon drawings, if you will. It was way out of date and very incorrect, so we’ve come a heck of a long ways.”

The GIS project started in the mid-1990s, but it wasn’t pursued aggressively until 1996. When Parsons started with the city, he was the technician out in the field doing the manhole dipping and manhole-type assessment work.

“I got first-hand knowledge of the first half of the city and then I took over as supervisor, so I didn’t have time for it after that,” Parsons says. “We brought on a couple of interns to finish that project.”

While doing the mapping, the city also hired a consultant to come in with survey-grade GPS mapping equipment. They were able to horizontally fix each manhole to within a quarter of an inch and run the vertical to within one-tenth of a foot.

“That finally gave us a database where we could reliably do some hydraulic modeling,” Fredrickson said. “We didn’t know if we had capacity then or if we would in the future. We had no clue.”

After the modeling, the city found out they did have sufficient capacity — and more. “I’m pleased to say that our forefathers were smart enough to put in the right size pipes.”

Fredrickson notes that there is some old 6-inch piping in the city, but the smallest they now install is 8 inches.

With the GIS mapping project now complete — as well as the master plan — the next step is to not let it sit and gather dust, according to Fredrickson.

“What we’re going to be doing over time is updating our GIS mapping system,” Fredrickson says. “We’re also in the process of developing a methodology to look at areas that are going to be potentially annexed and probably coming in at higher densities than we have experienced in the past.”

Fredrickson said the city is seeing a trend towards high-density multi-family development and knows that will stress the system in time, but he believes they’ve come up with a way to help with that.

“We’re going to develop local area capitalization fee surcharges,” Fredrickson explains. “In other words, we’re going to charge those developments that come in at higher densities a premium to hook up to the system, so that we are establishing a fund balance that will allow us to be able to do any corrective action to the system in the future.”

Lining up

Parsons has also played a key role in establishing the city’s cured-in-place pipe lining program.

“When we first started that lining program, open-cut replacement projects were costing roughly $130 per foot, and 50 percent of that was asphalt replacement,” Fredrickson says. “Now we’ve gotten that cost to somewhere less than $30 per foot. You can’t get much more efficient than that.”

The city began using CIPP between 2003 and 2004. Fredrickson said Parsons has been instrumental in developing the CIPP program and determining which lines are good candidates for it.

“If we’re going to come up with a list of candidate sections of pipe to be lined, that requires a considerable effort on our part to go out there and clean those sections and TV them and determine if these are really good candidates for lining,” Fredrickson says. “Anything that’s not going to make that a candidate, we need to know that well in advance of setting up the contract documents.”

Close-knit family

Hearing the banter between Parsons and Fredrickson, you can tell this is a group that has worked many years together and knows each other like family.

Parsons has been with the city for 24 years, Fredrickson for 27 years, and the chief operator of the treatment plant is pushing 30 years.

“It’s a godsend, having this experience,” Fredrickson says. “It’s only recently for various reasons that we’ve had two turnovers in the collection  system and one in the plant; that’s very rare. Most of our guys have been here in the double-digits.”

Parsons was named the 2011 Idaho Collections System Operator of the Year by the Pacific Northwest Clean Water Association after being nominated by Fredrickson.

“Larry is very conscientious and very professional about his job,” Fredrickson says. “He is a strong advocate for the city as far as the utility is concerned. I don’t have to sit out here and say ‘Larry, you need to get out there and maintain the system; Larry, you need to get out there and clean lines.’ He’s a very strong field supervisor.”

Parsons currently has only three operators who work under him; one of them has been with the city longer than he has and the other two have been with the city for about 20 years. The crews do their own CCTV inspections, as well as cleaning and flushing.

“We’ve been very fortunate having a good crew that’s really, for the most part, good self-starters and good hard workers,” Parsons says. “I try to keep a positive attitude and keep them informed and involved in what we do. I’m very proactive in letting them make decisions on what, when and how we do things.”

In total, the collection system has five regularly assigned operators, but Parsons and the department’s field inspector are also licensed Class IV operators who can be used as backups if needed.

“I think what mainly sets Larry apart is his experience and his drive, his desire to get the job done,” Fredrickson says.

Parsons responded in jest: “He’s being polite, what he means is I usually bug him to death until we get what we want.”

Parsons said the key to the continued success of his team and the utility is to stay motivated and educated.

“When you get ahead of the game, the tendency is to get relaxed and let things fall off. It can get very routine and you can’t let that happen,” Parsons says. “My guys do work in the plant, so that helps. That’ll keep them motivated. I try to keep things mixed up for them so they don’t get complacent.”


Comments on this site are submitted by users and are not endorsed by nor do they reflect the views or opinions of COLE Publishing, Inc. Comments are moderated before being posted.