By MELISSA CROCKETT MESKE
About a dozen of the region’s leaders flowed into the parking lot and eventually through the doors of the Collinsville Water Treatment Plant, located at 9535 Collinsville Road, for a tour of the facility in late September.
Members of the Leadership Council Southwestern Illinois were invited to listen and learn as Chief Operator Michael Crawford explained the plant’s history and processes before taking them on a walking tour of the facility itself.
Crawford pointed out that the current plant had been operational since April 17, 2019. Its predecessor had been treating the water for City of Collinsville customers since 1956. The current-day plant operations are not far from the first facility as it treats the water drawn in from six wells before pushing it out through millions of feet of pipe and delivering it to customers. Four of those wells are in Madison County, with the other two in St. Clair County.
“We don’t run all six wells at once,” Crawford noted. “That’s a lot of redundancies. We typically only need to run about two wells at a time. And that brings in 2.8 million gallons a day.”
Crawford also noted that the Collinsville Water Treatment Plant is a groundwater facility, which means the water is “essentially sterile” when pulled out of the ground. “There are no microbes at that level, 100 feet down,” he said.
The groundwater moves through a process that involves aeration, coagulation, flocculation, sedimentation and filtration treatments before reaching ground zero – the clearwell – then being pumped out to the public as finished water.
Leftover sludge is pumped into the six lagoons across the street from the facility to air dry, which can take a few seasons. Once dry, it is dredged out with an excavator and trucked out to a mine reclamation location.
The entire process, from drawing the groundwater out to pumping it out for delivery all over Collinsville, is more complex than words here can describe, but it is also in large part based on a very simple concept of physics: That being one of gravity.
Crawford also shared details about the career path options for becoming a water treatment plant operator. One option he discussed for developing a career path is the one-year vocational program offered by the Environmental Resource Training Center (ERTC) at SIUE.
The SIUE Water Quality Control Operations program is a one-year, full-time program of study leading to a certificate. According to the college’s website, classes meet Tuesday through Friday for nine months starting mid-August each year. During the summer, students complete a 10-week internship program, where they work five weeks at a drinking water treatment plant and five weeks at a wastewater treatment plant.
Upon completion of the full-year program, students are eligible to take both Illinois and Missouri certification exams to become certified as entry-level public water supply operators and/or wastewater treatment system operators. Program tuition and fees are just shy of $10,000, and the SIUE program boasts an 82 percent completion rate and an overall employment rate of 87 percent.
In fact, Crawford added that the Collinsville plant was currently looking to fill a full-time operator position. He did note that the career is very technical and comprehensive. “There’s electrical to learn. Mechanical to learn. Hydraulics, pipefitting. And both wastewater and drinking water labs to complete.”
“But I love my job and what I do here,” Crawford said. “I enjoy working here and look forward to coming in every single day. How many people get to say that?”
He then led the group of Leadership Council members through a walking tour of the physical plant. Crawford’s passion about what he does was made as clear as the water that had been run through the treatment process and into the clearwell for citywide distribution.
If you’d like to learn more about the water treatment process, touring, or how to do what Crawford looks forward to every day, call (618) 346-5219 or email email@example.com. The facility is available for group tours by appointment.
This story also appears in the November 2023 print edition of the Illinois Business Journal.