When it comes to Operations Challenge — the water sector’s premier annual skills competition — there is no offseason. Operations Challenge pits the world’s most talented facility operators, maintenance workers, and laboratory technicians against each other in a series of thrilling, timebound trials; and the work to prepare for WEFTEC® 2023 has already begun.
Operations Challenge teams, each of which represents a Water Environment Federation (WEF; Alexandria, Virginia) Member Association or comparable regional organization, feature four members. They compete in five events that test an array of skills critical to success in the water and wastewater sector: Process Control; Laboratory; Safety; Collections Systems; and the Vaughan Maintenance Event. Throughout the year, these squads work tirelessly on their teamwork and tactics in hopes of earning the chance to represent their region’s Member Association at the WEFTEC Operations Challenge competition, and ultimately return home as worldwide champions.
Ahead of the 36th annual Operations Challenge competition set to take place at WEFTEC 2023 in Chicago, Operations Challenge veterans and newcomers alike are in the thick of preparation. Steve Harrison, WEF Senior Manager of Operator Programs, who leads efforts to coordinate the annual competition, predicts a particularly crowded field this year that will feature talents from far beyond the U.S. and Canada.
"We expect to host our largest competition ever this year — likely more than 50 teams," Harrison said. "The value of the skills competition as a training tool continues to be recognized by water quality organizations around the world. This year, we expect teams from Argentina, Colombia, Denmark, Finland, and Germany at WEFTEC."
Qualifiers in Full Swing
Several regional qualifying events for Operations Challenge 2023 already have taken place across the U.S. and Canada, with several more scheduled throughout the summer.
In March, South Carolina-based teams met at the South Carolina Environmental Conference in Myrtle Beach to compete for the chance to represent the Water Environment Association of South Carolina at Operations Challenge 2023. Texas teams did battle at the Texas Water 2023 conference, co-hosted by the Water Environment Association of Texas and the Texas Section of the American Water Works Association, in April. Similar qualifying events have been held by the Water Environment Association of Ontario, the Water Environment Association of Utah, the New Jersey Water Environment Association, and the Florida Water Environment Association.
A successful showing at the Texas Water 2023 conference in April earned the TRAilblazers — an all-female team representing the Water Environment Association of Texas and the Trinity River Authority (Arlington, Texas) — an invitation to compete in Division III at the WEFTEC competition. Image courtesy of Stefanie Vaughan
The 36th annual Operations Challenge competition will take place at WEFTEC 2023 in Chicago, October 2–4. Elite teams of competitors from around the world are deep into their preparations as the WEFTEC competition inches closer. Image courtesy of Kieffer Photography
Additional qualifiers scheduled throughout the summer include
- The Operations Challenge competition at the New England/New York Water Environment Association Joint Spring Meeting in Saratoga Springs, New York, June 6–9;
- the Virginia Water Environment Association Operations Challenge competition in Rockville, Virginia, June 14–15;
- the PennTec Operations Challenge competition hosted by the Pennsylvania Water Environment Association in Hershey, Pennsylvania, June 18–21;
- the Rocky Mountain Water Environment Association Operations Challenge competition in Denver, June 23;
- One Water Ohio’s Wastewater Operations Challenge Invitational at the One Water Technical Conference and Exhibition in Columbus, August 21–22;
- the Chesapeake Tri-Association Conference, co-hosted by the Chesapeake Water Environment Association, in Ocean City, Maryland, August 29–September 1; and
- PNCWA2023, hosted by the Pacific Northwest Clean Water Association, in Tacoma, Washington, September 11–13.
High-performing teams in each of these events will earn an invitation to register to compete at WEFTEC 2023. Team registration will open on July 18.