Supervisor earns peer honor

FAIRMONT – Butch Hybbert has been in the wastewater business since 1975, after graduating from Mankato State University with degrees in environmental science and biology, with a minor in chemistry.

“Back then, the environmental field was the hot item,” said Hybbert, who has worked for the city of Fairmont since 1985 as its wastewater superintendent. Since 1998, he also has had the responsibility of supervising the city’s water treatment facility.

When the 64-year-old retires next spring, his tenure will include a multi-million expansion at the wastewater plant and the completion of a new water treatment plant. Beyond his responsibilities with the city, he has proven his leadership abilities as a past member of the Minnesota Wastewater Association state board and as the association’s former Southwest District director. Most recently, that same association named Hybbert the 2013 Class A wastewater supervisor of the year.

“Each district nominates for the state level, and then I competed against other districts for Class A,” he explained. “… I was up against superintendents from Duluth, Mankato, Hutchinson … I’m a little surprised I did win.”

His job as superintendent includes hiring and firing; budgeting and other administrative duties; keeping up to date on state and federal regulations and enforcement of those regulations; and overseeing the wastewater system as a whole.

Besides the superintendent, the department employs five workers: the operating manager, two collection operators and two wastewater operators. Offsite, the collection operators maintain 30 lift stations and clean out a third of the city’s aging sewer system each year.

“I enjoy the challenge of seeing the plant operate well, and knowing that we’re discharging good quality water back into the environment,” Hybbert said.

There are difficult days, though, like when heavy rains cause sewage backups due to inflow and infiltration. I&I of stormwater into the wastewater system is the biggest wastewater issue the city faces. It’s a common problem across the nation, as municipalities struggle to replace outdated, cracked clay pipes.

“Underground, out of mind,” Hybbert said.

Fairmont works each year to replace its sewer pipes during street reconstruction projects, but Hybbert estimates only 10 percent has been updated.

“When you have 10 miles of sanitary sewer, and you only replace three blocks a year, that’s a long time …”

In 2004, the plant underwent a major expansion to meet new rules on phosphorous limits for discharge.

“Since I’ve been in the field, the discharge limits have become more stringent,” he said.

When wastewater comes into the plant, it’s first mechanically filtered to remove sticks, rags and other items that could harm equipment. The liquid treatment process then includes grit and sand removal, which is transferred to a landfill for disposal. The liquid is then further separated from the solids in clarifier tanks, where the solids are allowed to settle and much of the phosphorous is removed using ferric chloride. The process continues, with the liquids undergoing numerous treatments to clean and disinfect the water until it reaches the point of discharge into Center Creek, at the rate of about 1.5 million gallons per day.

“We’re the only flow going into Center Creek, and we have no dilution factor,” Hybbert said. “That’s one reason for such stringent requirements.”

The solid product, or primary sludge, that comes into the plant is processed and de-watered until it meets the requirements for a Class A biosolids product, which can be applied to land as fertilizer.

“There’s a lot to wastewater treatment people don’t realize,” Hybbert said.