Alice Cannella said Chattanooga residents should appreciate the Moccasin Bend Wastewater Treatment Plant as they would a local manufacturing facility.
Ms. Cannella said, "we're taking a raw product that comes in the front gate and (producing) clean water and suitable biosolids as byproducts from that. They don't understand how much it takes to do that."
It is her job to ensure the plant's four pumps are operating properly so they can handle from 55 million gallons to more than 200 million gallons per day.
Q. What led you into the field of wastewater treatment?
A. My dad is a retired professor of civil and environmental engineering, and he taught at Tennessee Tech University. So basically I grew up among engineering faculty around the college. ... I actually acquired a bachelor's degree in fine art at MTSU (Middle Tennessee State University). But I think reality set in, and I decided it's time to do something you can make a living at. And so I went back to Tennessee Tech and gave it a try in engineering -- started with some of the math classes -- and it worked out fine.
Q. Does your work amount to: It's a dirty job, but somebody's got to do it?
A. Wastewater treatment -- you would think it isn't a clean business, but we consider ourselves the real environmentalists because we're the ones who are cleaning the waste that comes from all homes and industries, rendering it fully capable of being discharged back into the Tennessee River.
Q. What is the most difficult part of your job?
A. Wastewater treatment, for the most part, is a biological process, and so we're dealing with living organisms that we're both cultivating and using to our benefit to remove the pollutants and whatever is in the wastewater. Biological organisms change all the time, so the challenges are to anticipate and attack those changes. There may be a higher demand for oxygen one day. The temperature may make a difference. The dry weather may make a difference. Wet weather will make a difference.
Q. What don't people know about your job?
A. People know very little about what goes on at the wastewater treatment plant. I think most people when they flush the commode they expect it to go away, and they don't want to worry about it anymore, which I can understand. They don't realize that there's somebody at the other end of that pipe that has to do something with that soiled wastewater to make it suitable to go back to our environment.
DID YOU KNOW?
Hometown: West Point, N.Y. (raised in Cookeville, Tenn.).
Education: Bachelor of Arts, Middle Tennessee State University, Bachelor of Science, Tennessee Technological University; working on master's degree in engineering management at University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
Career: Water Quality Branch, Tennessee Valley Authority; Public Works Department, Hamilton County; private consulting firm; collection system engineer, City of Chattanooga; plant superintendent for Moccasin Bend Wastewater Treatment Plant, City of Chattanooga.
ON HER NIGHTSTAND
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