Walter Bailey, P.E., M.ASCE, poured 15 years of blood, sweat, and tears into planning and building the new anaerobic digester facility that just began operations at Washington, DC’s Blue Plains Advanced Wastewater Treatment Plant, then retired just before it opened.
The city’s water district recognized Bailey’s extraordinary efforts by naming the facility for him. Opened Oct. 7, the new Bailey Bioenergy Facility in Washington, DC, honors the former assistant general manager at Blue Plains and ASCE member since 1982. The digester is the first of its kind in North America, using a special kind of thermal hydrolysis to generate clean, renewable energy from wastewater.
“He’s not someone who seeks acclaim,” DC Water CEO George Hawkins said. “He would never have asked to have his name put on a facility – just because he’s not that style of person. He gets his worth from seeing work done well and putting teams together well. But it was just the right thing, and we’re incredibly happy to be able to do that for him. Walt certainly deserves it.”
Although Bailey retired in September after 43 years of service, he wasn’t surprised to be invited to the facility’s grand opening given the amount of work he’d put in on the project. What was a complete surprise to the man whose leadership made the plant a reality was the unveiling of the building’s plaque reading “The Bailey Bioenergy Facility.”
“I was shocked,” Bailey said. “It’s very moving. I’m very thankful. I’d worked on [the facility] for a long time. I was really satisfied to see it come into being and start up and operate as we expected it to operate – very well; the performance was excellent.
“The plaque was just sort of the icing on the cake.”
Facility and its engineer set great examples
The $470 million digester produces a net 10 megawatts of electricity from the wastewater treatment process – about one-third of the Blue Plains energy needs – and the resulting Class A biosolids are cleaner than current regulations require.
“We’re living in a world where resource constraints are going to be very significant,” Hawkins said. “So we call the water that comes into us ‘enriched water’ because it has all sorts of valuable nutrients in it that we can use for energy. It’s not just here; we should look at the world that way. How can we be smart about not wasting anything on this precious planet?”
Bailey has long been an innovator in environmental engineering, having had his passions for it sparked as an undergraduate at Virginia Tech by legendary educator, Cliff Randall, Ph.D., Dist.M.ASCE. Bailey has received two U.S. patents for developing treatment processes at Blue Plains and has won numerous awards during his career.
For Hawkins, Bailey’s true genius lies in his ability to lead. He cited his expertise, his listening skills, his drive to innovate, and his humility as crucial to uniting the Blue Plains team of leaders – Aklile Tesfaye, Salil Kharkar, Chris Peot, and Sudhir Murthy – on this project.
“This was just a tremendous team and I think that was because of how Walt put the team together and had each of these players working so well. We wouldn’t have had that facility if everyone on the group hadn’t done their part,” Hawkins said. “Walt was the head of the orchestra. He was the one standing out in front as the conductor.
“And he’s the nicest guy in the world. That part is hard to put your finger on. But I think everyone wants to perform for Walt because you just like him. You want to please him, you want to do good work for him. He’s just a really kind-hearted soul. He inspires people to want to do good things.”
Bailey will continue to work for DC Water as a part-time consultant, and is looking forward to some much deserved time with his family while enjoying a new house on Hatteras Island, NC.
He’s earned it. Just look at the plaque.
“It’s been very important to me because I think our work there at Blue Plains has had a pretty significant impact on the water quality of the Potomac River and the Chesapeake Bay,” Bailey said. “So I’m proud of that. Our team has done a great job and performed extremely well.”