Small Utility Performs at Award-Winning Level

Kansas utility rings up awards for collections system excellence despite a small staff.

Small Utility Performs at Award-Winning Level

The Bonner Springs team includes (from left) municipal utilities Director Chuck Staples, technicians Chris Johnson and Marlin Crawford, supervisor Steve Garcia, chief plant operator Laura Munro and technician Jerry Wisthoff.

The Bonner Springs, Kansas, wastewater collections and treatment department knows how to maximize its resources.

And they do it well enough that the Kansas Water Environment Association recognized it in 2018 as Collection System of the Year for systems with under 250 miles of sewer. It’s an honor the utility also achieved in 2012, 2013, 2014, 2016 and 2017. Almost a clean sweep.

“I attribute that to just being consistent,” says Laura Munro, chief plant operator, who has been with the city for 17 years. “We keep a schedule, TV and clean so many feet (of sewers) per year, and maintain our lift stations. It’s everything we do compared to other cities of our size. Part of the reason is the city has allowed us the money to take care of our infrastructure.

“We’re a good team,” she adds. “We help each other, absolutely.”

The team is small: Munro and Steve Garcia, collections specialist, supervised by Chuck Staples, municipal utilities director. A third operations position remains open, and the utility is seeking applicants.

Staples says the Bonner Springs utility posts job openings on websites, works with the county employment office and stays in communication with the Kansas Rural Water Association. And of course, they sometimes borrow people from other city departments to get the job done.

The city

Bonner Springs, with a population of 7,800, is located in the Kansas City metropolitan area. The sewer system consists of 47 miles of gravity lines, 5 miles of force mains, nine lift stations, 725 manholes and 17 lamp holes.

The gravity flow system features 8- to 24-inch-diameter clay, ductile iron and PVC pipe. Force mains are ductile iron and PVC, ranging in diameter from 6 to 10 inches. Certain sections have elevation issues due to shallow bedrock.

Since Bonner Springs has a small crew, some issues need to be contracted to keep the collections system operation at peak performance. In choosing a contractor, whether for sanitary sewer repairs, controls or electrical work, the choice comes down to their dependability, attention to detail and who has the equipment to do the job, Staples says. “The last thing we want to do is waste taxpayers’ money by having to call out another contractor to redo someone’s work.”

Garcia has been with the utility for six years and was promoted to collections specialist in 2019. “We use a 2000 Vactor combination truck for cleaning and flushing the system,” he explains. “Recently, we purchased a small Vactor trailer that we use for hydroexcavating small lines without having to tear up the whole area.”

Bonner Springs inspects the sewer system using a small pole camera. “If we spot problems, we can call in one of our contractors with camera crews,” Garcia says. “They can come in and TV and clean the lines.”

Garcia says he and Munro, with the help of staff from the water plant as needed, often do point repairs themselves. “We’ve done manhole cones and covers. If we have to, we can hand-dig to raise the manhole, pull the metal casing and set the new ring ourselves.

“We can also do some of the smaller spot repairs,” he adds, drilling holes and using quick dry cement to deal with small inflow and infiltration issues or other cracks and holes. If larger repairs are required, especially on deeper lines, they call in outside help from a local contractor.


In cases where sewer lines need full rehabilitation, Bonner Springs contracts with companies for CIPP lining. “It saves us a lot of money,” Garcia says.

Munro and Garcia both appreciate the city’s system of backup generators to keep lift station pumps operating in case of power outages.

The two do all the preventive maintenance procedures in-house and perform the smaller maintenance and repair projects, taking care of leaking seals, monitoring and repairing impellers, and making sure the pumping curves are correct.

In a cost-saving move, Munro and Garcia often use the city’s crane truck to pull larger submersible and dry pumps in order to perform maintenance and repairs themselves. “We can pull up to 3,200 pounds,” Garcia says.

Work on the larger pumps situated in a deep dry pit are farmed out to local contractors capable of doing the job.

Roots can be another issue, exacerbated by creeks that flow through the city. In areas that are difficult to access, Bonner Springs uses a contractor for chemical root control.


In some sections of the city, especially flat areas where gravity flow isn’t possible, grinder pumps move wastewater from individual homes to the sewer system. These areas are served by a low-pressure sewer line, maintained by the city. The city has responsibility for maintaining the grinder pumps installed before 2008.

“We have about 201 grinder pumps we are responsible for,” Garcia says. “We’re trying to discourage them on future construction projects, but with some housing developments, it’s about the only thing they can do.”

Like other wastewater utilities, Bonner Springs has to deal with wipes and other nonflushable items. “They flush into the grinder systems and get into our force mains,” Garcia says. “Our biggest problem is with what people put into the system.”

The city’s website advises citizens against flushing “disposable” or “septic safe” items, warning that manufacturers’ advertising is not always accurate.


The city also maintains an effective fats, oils and grease control program.

“We annually inspect grease traps,” Garcia says. “We open them up to see if they’re cleaned, and we send inspection sheets to industries and schools to verify cleaning practices. Our restaurants and other establishments are pretty good about (complying with the ordinance).”

The Kansas Water Environment Association award also complimented Bonner Springs on its safety and training programs. The collections and treatment team work with the others in the city’s Public Works Department to conduct monthly safety meetings.

“We’re very good about safety,” Garcia says. “We have all the required equipment. We suit up for all our operations. We have a good record on confined spaces.”

Munro points out that a current collections project involves raising a 40-foot-deep dry lift station and installing submersible pumps. That way, repairs won’t have to be made at such a great depth in the future — a move that will enhance safety.

That’s the kind of commonsense, one-step-at-a-time approach that has made Bonner Springs both an industry award winner and an effective public utility.

“It’s all about preplanning, knowing what you’re going to do, maintenance, and keeping your machines running well,” Garcia says. “Last summer we jetted a mainline on a busy street. We coordinated with traffic and the street department, used cones and arrow boards, notified the businesses we might affect, and let people know what sounds they might be hearing that day.

“Don’t mess around,” he says. “Get the work done correctly, and get out of everybody’s way.”

Proper treatment

The Bonner Springs (Kansas) Wastewater Treatment plant has undergone a number of improvements and expansions over the years, with the current oxidation ditch configuration dating to the mid-’90s.

The plant is designed for 1.5 mgd and is currently handing between 0.5 and 0.08 mgd, using half of the available treatment train. It includes a headworks channel with a grinder that was installed in 2015. The Infilco Degremont UV light Aquaray 40 disinfection system (SUEZ Water Technologies & Solutions) was installed in 1999.

Treated effluent is discharged to the Kansas River.

Laura Munro, chief operator, says the plant’s permit calls for nutrient monitoring only, with limits for TSS and BOD. The on-site lab also tests for pH on a monthly basis.

Munro says future projects include installing variable-frequency drives and improving dissolved oxygen control. Currently, Bonner Springs controls DO by manually raising or lowering the weir on the oxidation ditch. Automatic controls will provide easier and more accurate DO measurements and fine tuning.

Waste sludge is dewatered on a small Aero-Mod belt press, with biosolids hauled to the local landfill in city trucks.


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