Regional Operations Challenge Competitions Build Excitement

As October inches nearer, the eyes of the world’s most elite wastewater technicians are trained in New Orleans. Top-tier teams from across North America and beyond will vie for victory during the 37th annual Operations Challenge competition at WEFTEC® 2024.

And while the WEFTEC competition is undoubtedly the cornerstone of Operations Challenge season, regional qualifying competitions take place throughout spring and summer. As results from this year’s qualifying events continue to pour in and the field of competitors at WEFTEC takes shape, excitement is mounting among Operations Challenge fans worldwide.

Controlled_Chaos_Brawl24.JPG
Controlled Chaos, representing the Water Environment Association of South Carolina and Mount Pleasant Waterworks, appear primed to defend their Division I championship at Operations Challenge 2024 after placing first among 11 teams at the South Carolina Environmental Conference in March. Photo credit: Seth Duncan


“These qualifying events are valuable preparation for the teams, volunteers, and our equipment providers,” said Steve Harrison, Water Environment Federation (WEF; Alexandria, Virginia) Director of Operator Systems and Operations Challenge Coordinator. “In some cases, it may be an operator’s first introduction to their WEF Member Association [MA]. They often discover other opportunities to get involved, and many have gone on to leadership positions. This is among the many professional development benefits of participating in this unique and valuable program.”

Operations Challenge Defined

Operations Challenge is the water sector’s premier skills competition, testing participants’ talents in five unique events: Process Control, Laboratory, Collection Systems, Safety, and Vaughan (Montesano, Washington) Maintenance.

Working in teams, competitors race against the clock to complete demanding and precise tasks ranging from replacing segments of impaired pipes to analyzing water samples to rescuing injured co-workers. Operations Challenge has forged decades-spanning dynasties and continues to grow, each year attracting hungry new teams from around the world who recognize the competition’s value for networking and professional development. It is a landmark of the WEFTEC exhibition, drawing devoted crowds and raucous cheering sections.

The competition is divided into three divisions based on teams' prior performances.

  • Division III is for new teams whose members have never competed at WEFTEC for that utility. Teams can choose to compete in Division III for up to 2 years.
  • Division II is for returning teams that competed in the previous year's Division III competition and placed in the top three positions overall and do not qualify for Division I.
  • Division I is for returning Division I teams and any returning top three Division II teams from the previous year.

Qualifier Season in Full Swing

At the Brawl at the Beach Operations Challenge competition in South Carolina in March, several returning teams proved they are still tough competition.

  • Controlled Chaos placed first among 11 teams. This team, which took home the WEFTEC Division I win in 2023, represents the Water Environment Association of South Carolina (WEASC) and Mount Pleasant Waterworks. Controlled Chaos holds three WEFTEC Division I wins.
  • The Smooth Operators earned second place at the Brawl. This team from North Carolina One Water and Greenville Utilities made their WEFTEC Division I debut in 2023 after only 2 years competing together as a full team. This marks the fastest ascension to Division I in Operations Challenge history.

At Texas Water 2024 in April, a range of teams went head-to-head for the chance to represent the Water Environment Association of Texas at WEFTEC.

  • Centrifugal Force of the North Texas Municipal Water District (Wylie) took home the first-place award.
  • The TRA River Guardians from the Trinity River Authority (TRA; Arlington; Texas) earned second.

Both of these teams represented WEAT in Division I at WEFTEC in 2023 and will return this year.

  • The all-female TRA Trailblazers, also from TRA, finished third overall, outperforming a handful of more experienced opponents. The TRA Trailblazers debuted at WEFTEC 2023 in Division III.

In early May, the Sludgehammers sent a strong message with a first-place win at the Water Environment Association of Ontario (WEAO) Technical Symposium. The team placed first in Division II at WEFTEC 2023, are expected to make their Division I debut this year. The Sludgehammers will represent WEAO and the Region of Durham Public Works Department (Whitby, Ontario, Canada).

Several stops remain on the road to WEFTEC. From August 5 to 6, the Ohio Water Environment Association will host a competition at its annual Technical Conference and Expo in Sandusky. The Chesapeake Water Environment Association will hold an event in Ocean City, Maryland, as part of its Tri-Association Conference from August 27 to 30. Finally, the Pacific Northwest Clean Water Association will stage an event from September 9 to 11 in Boise, Idaho.

Biggest Competition Yet

At press time, Operations Challenge officials expected as many as 60 teams to compete at WEFTEC 2024, which would represent the largest field in Operations Challenge history. The roster is expected to include teams from around the world, including representatives from Argentina, Canada, Colombia, Finland, Germany, the U.K., and — for the first time — Brazil.

Registration Open

Each Operations Challenge team competing at WEFTEC must represent a WEF MA or comparable regional professional organization abroad. These MAs each may sponsor a pre-allotted number of teams each year, typically decided via regional qualifier competitions, to appear at WEFTEC. Registration for teams that secure MA sponsorship — whether by placing highly in a regional competition or by making separate arrangements with their MA where appropriate — is open through September 6. Operations Challenge takes place at WEFTEC from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Monday, October 7, and continues on Tuesday, October 8, from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Get more details about Operations Challenge, including information on registration procedures as a competitor or volunteer, at www.weftec.org/opschallenge.

WET logo.pngNote: This article is a condensed version of the full coverage of regional qualifying Operations Challenge events, titled “The Heat of Competition: Regional contests build excitement ahead of Operations Challenge 2024.” This full article will appear in the August 2024 issue of Water Environment & Technology.

 

Justin Jacques

Justin Jacques is the Managing Editor of WE&T. He can be reached at jjacques@wef.org

Justin Jacques

July 01, 2024

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