PB Wastewater Utility wins national award

Pine Bluff Wastewater Utility has been honored with the Platinum Peak Performance Award — a nationally coveted distinction earned by wastewater utility companies that are able to attain 100-percent compliance with the Environmental Protection Agency’s permits for five consecutive years.

This is only the second time in PBWU’s 126-year history to receive the award. The other occurrence was in 2008. General manager Ken Johnson was at the helm of the agency to receive this honor as well.

“This is not Ken Johnson making this achievement,” Johnson said. “It’s the employees working together with me toward this endeavor. Without them, none of this would be possible. We have the mindset that we have a job to do, so we’re going to do it to the best of our capabilities every day.”

Johnson said the type of treatment plant Pine Bluff has is designed to ensure only 75-percent compliance at all times, making five consecutive years of 100-percent compliance a grand feat.

The honor was bestowed upon PBWU by the National Association of Clean Water Agencies. Johnson said Pine Bluff is the smallest city member of in the entire United States.

“It’s really amazing when you compare the size of Pine Bluff with larger metropolitan areas in the NACWA,” Johnson said. “It shows that even though we’re small, we can still compete.”

He said this award should demonstrate that PBWU is capable of handling wastewater with perfect compliance and making sure it’s properly treated with 100-percent excellence in order to be released safely into the Arkansas River.

About 10 million gallons of wastewater are treated daily by PBWU, Johnson said, and when he first became general manager 13 years ago, there were 300 service interruptions yearly — this includes issues such as stopped up commodes or excessive water in the pipe systems in any way. Johnson said the number of interruptions was down to less than 50 this past year.

“We’ve had a plan and implemented that plan steadily in order to reduce service interruption calls,” he said. “There’s been a 10-percent reduction each year in the number of interruptions. It’ll never be down to zero calls due to the nature of the system, but we are always working to identify problems and take corrective action.”

Under Johnson’s leadership, PBWU has been able to add $5 million in upgrades to its treatment plant and make improvements to the sewage infrastructure by adding new pipes and liners.

“It’s our goal daily to protect public health by working in compliance with federal requirements and provide an overall better service to the community by putting money back into the sewage system,” he said.

Johnson, a 30-year employee with PBWU, will travel to Portland, Ore., to receive the award on behalf of PBWU on July 15 during the National Association of Clean Water Agency’s Summer Conference at the Nines Hotel.

Aside from winning the Platinum Peak Performance Award twice, PBWU has earned the Excellence in Management Award in 2008, the EPA’s Excellence Award, the Water Environment Federation William Hatfield Award in 2003, the Water Environment Association Safety Awareness Award, Arkansas Water Pollution Control Federation Award and the George W. Burke National Safety Award.