Homer wins awards for source water, wastewater operator for rural Alaska

Homer is being recognized for the treatment of one of its most basic resources — water — in comparison to other small cities within the state.

The city received awards this month from the Alaska Rural Water Association, headquartered in Wasilla. Homer was recognized for Source Water System of the Year for a population of more than 1,000, and Water and Sewer Superintendent Todd Cook was named Wastewater Operator of the Year for a population of more than 1,000.

Cook said the award was a bit of a surprise, considering the fact that he’s usually the one thinking of people to recognize, not the other way around.

“It was kind of cool because, the guys here, I put them up for awards,” he said.

Cook has been a wastewater treatment operator since 1997, and has done the job in Alaska since 2000. Since coming to the state, he has achieved the highest level of training attainable in Alaska for his job, which requires post secondary and continued education. This is his first time being awarded by the Alaska Rural Water Association, he said.

Cook said Homer’s wastewater treatment plant and its employees make his job and getting an award easy. It’s a unique plant in that it uses a treatment process called deep shaft treatment, which up until a few years ago was not being done by many plants, he said. When the Homer plant went online in 1991, Cook said he’s not sure of any other plants in North America using deep shaft treatment at the time.

The difference is that, instead of using large tanks for the aerobic digestion process used for treatment, Homer’s plant uses two 500-foot shafts, which Cook said is still a relatively unique way of doing things both in the state and in the country.

“One of the things that attracted me to Homer was the unique treatment process,” he said.

When Dawson City, Canada installed deep shaft treatment a few years ago, Cook said, it was modeled after the process in Homer.

The city takes its wastewater seriously, but the same can be said of its drinking water. Homer’s award for Source Water of the Year is thanks to years of preparation ahead of the ball made by past city officials and employees, Cook said.

The city’s drinking water comes from the Bridge Creek Reservoir near Diamond Ridge, and Cook said Homer has been taking proactive measures to protect the watershed. A former water and sewer superintendent with the city created a source water protection plan which was on file with the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation before such a plan was even required by the state, he said.

Through collaboration between past city council’s, the planning department and public works, Homer has put several things into place that control what’s allowed near the water source and what’s not — camping, motorized vehicle use, and other things that could potentially hurt the water’s quality. The city has also purchased land within the watershed to keep it from being developed, Cook said.

When the source drinking water is protected from the start, it’s all the easier to clean when it gets to his facility, Cook said.

“Homer should serve as a model for other communities that use surface water for their drinking water systems,” the Alaska Rural Water Association release states.

Ultimately, Cook said it comes down to the plant being well maintained over the years, the skilled operators and the technology they have access to that make it an award winning place.

“It’s pretty easy to do a good job when you’ve got the right tools and you’ve got the support,” he said.

Reach Megan Pacer at megan.pacer@homernews.com.