In the USST Spotlight: Bobby Keyes

Bobby Keyes, USST Foreman.
Bobby Keyes, USST Foreman.


a key member of USST’s team for almost four years who was recently promoted to one of our Foreman positions.  With a background in construction for most of his career, Bobby moved to Florida from New Hampshire in 1988 to get away from the cold and has lived in the peaceful town of Osteen with his family and horses for the past 20-years. 

He enjoys tackling new challenges every day, can recite the theme song to Gilligan’s Island at a moment’s notice, and never passes up a snack of Oreo cookies and milk.  Read on to learn some other surprising details about our team member.

Hometown:  Osteen, Florida for the past 20-years.  It’s peaceful, quiet, and I have 5 acres for my 6 horses and pony to run free.

What I Do as a Foreman:  Oversee the job, morning setup, and make sure everything is running smoothly throughout the day.  

Favorite Aspect of the Job:  The challenges I get to solve – there is something new every day.

Proudest Accomplishment at USST:  I was recently promoted to Foreman, and I really enjoy the role.

Work Safe Checklist:  I have a safety meeting every morning with the crew where we go over that day’s job hazards and things to watch out for, make sure everyone is wearing proper PPE and make sure we keep the jobsite clean and safe.

My Inspiration:  My horses; they are my enjoyment at the end of the day.

My Friends Would Describe Me As:  I can’t tell you that!

Lesson That I Live By:  If you’re not sitting on the edge of your seat, you’re taking up too much room!

What is something you like to do the “old fashioned” way?  I like to have face-to-face conversations.  It’s much more personal than phones or texting.

My favorite Beatle:  Paul McCartney

Favorite Movies/TV Shows I like to Watch:  Tombstone, Unforgiven, or any of the old western movies.  I also like American Pickers, Counting Cars and other similar reality shows; they’re just fun to watch!

My Autobiography Would Be Called:  I’m Done, What’s Next?

First Job:  McDonalds; I made $1.65 an hour!

Hobbies:  Restoration of things like old tractors and classic cars.  Right now, I’m working on a 1966 Chevy Chevelle.

#1 Place I’d Like to Visit:  Australia

Who Would Win a Fight Between Superman and Batman?  Batman has all the gadgets but Superman would win because he has all the powers.  Unless Batman had some sort of bat-a-rang or something with kryptonite in it, then Batman would win.   But really Superman.

Who I’d Want to be Stranded With on a Deserted Island:  Dolly Parton

Surprising Talent:  I can make the Star Trek, “Live Long and Prosper” symbol.

You’re a new addition to the crayon box. What color would you be and why?  Red, because red means power.

If you didn’t have to sleep, what would you do with the extra time and why?  Spend the extra time with my family.

What song(s) do have completely memorized?  The theme song from Gilligan’s Island. I used to watch that so much as a kid!

One Word That Describes My Dancing Ability:  Absolutely none!  I know that’s two words, but I am really terrible.

If you could travel to any period in time, when would it be and why?  The Old West; I’d like to meet all the old-time gun slingers and lawmen like Doc Holiday and Wyatt Earp.  They’d probably kill me, but it would be fascinating!

Favorite Snack:  Oreo cookies and milk.

Covered Splitter Box Cleaned Via Manhole While In Service


USST  Combination3® Truck at work on in service splitter box.
USST Combination Truck at work on splitter box while in service.

Access issues had prevented a covered splitter box at a Central Florida wastewater treatment facility from being cleaned.  A large amount of accumulated sand and grit had built up over time, and the structure was experiencing reduced capacity. So how was this splitter box cleaned while in service?

A splitter box serves to separate influent flow to various structures such as aeration basins or oxidation ditches and can be hard to shut down or bypass flow in order to perform regular maintenance. 

“Cleaning a structure while in operation is our specialty,” said Aaron Hood, experienced Field Supervisor at USST.  “This particular splitter box was also covered, adding a layer of complexity to the project, but didn’t prevent us from being able to remove the large quantity of material in a short amount of time.”

Aerial view of splitter box. at facility
Aerial view of splitter box at facility.

The 55-foot long by 7-foot wide structure had two access points on top of the tank.  USST crew, along with the powerful Combination Truck, was able to employ the jetter to jet material back to the downhole pump positioned at the manhole for removal.  The work was performed in submerged conditions, while remaining in operation, a challenge the facility had previously been unable to solve.  Since the splitter box was cleaned while in service, confined space entry was not required to complete the project.

USST utilized the unique GritGone Process® to remove 74-tons of sand and grit in total, generating paint-filter material ready for disposal.  Check out our video to get a more detailed explanation of how our GritGone Process® works.  The project was completed on time and the client saved valuable time and resources by not having to shut down operations or figure out a bypass solution.

If you find yourself with an issue that seems unsolvable, give us a call, we love a challenge!  Contact us by calling (844) 765-7866 with any questions you may have or give us a shout-out below in the comment section.

2019 FRWA Conference Recap


USST Crew at the 2019 FRWA Conference.
USST Crew at the 2019 FRWA Conference.

Another FRWA Conference has come to a close.  This was USST’s 6th year attending the conference, and we enjoyed visiting with customers and friends who stopped by our booth, as well as checking out the Best Tasting Water Contest and industry awards.  If you couldn’t make it, please feel free to reach out with any questions you have or issues you may need to address.  We’re happy to discuss your facility’s needs, help solve a problem, or even chat about your favorite sports team.  Contact us here. See you at next year’s 2020 conference!

Best Tasting Water Contest Results

Judges examining water samples at the 2019 Best Tasting Water Contest.
Judges examining water samples at the 2019 Best Tasting Water Contest.

Utilities from across the state of Florida gathered on August 5-7 at the 2019 FRWA Conference to compete for the title of Best Tasting Water.  The contest first took place in 1989, and contestants are judged on four factors:  taste, odor, color and quench factor. 

When judging the water samples, judges assign each sample a number, and it takes the panel about 30-45 minutes to complete the tastings, make their decisions, assign points, and determine a winner.

This year, the City of Stuart took first place in this year’s contest, making it the third time they have earned the regional title.  They will go on to compete in the 2020 National Rural Water Association’s Water Rally in Washington, D.C. for the prestigious title of Best Tasting Water in America.  Finalists are selected from a preliminary round of judging before advancing to the finals where a panel of experts will choose the winner. We wish the City of Stuart the best of luck as they advance to the next round!

Check out FRWA’s slide show of the 2019 judging process here.

FRWA Award Winners

Industry awards are also given out during the 2019 FRWA Conference, including Manager/Administrator of the Year, Operator of the Year, and System of the Year to name just a few.  All award winners can be viewed in FRWA’s slide show here.

Florida Braces for Flooding as Downpours Continue


Rainfall predictions across the state of Florida.
Rainfall forecast courtesy of The Weather Channel.

Heavy downpours continued over the weekend, making this summer one of the wettest some parts of Florida have seen in a long time.  Last week, drivers needed rescuing from their cars stranded in rising waters in Orange County when more than 4-inches of rain fell.  In Miami-Dade, nearly 6-inches fell in one hour, causing flash flooding while flood warnings were issued across most of West, Central and South Florida. What’s different about this type of flash flooding and rainfall and the impact it has on wastewater treatment infrastructure?

Most Floridians are familiar with daily summer thunderstorms, but these storms have been lingering longer and dumping heavy rains multiple days in a row.  When the ground becomes this saturated with water, it has nowhere to go. 

“What is most unusual about this pattern is that rain will be an all-day on-and-off rain rather than the once or twice a day severe thunderstorms,” meteorologist Jonathan Belles said.  Showers and storms will be possible in the middle of the night too, which is not typical of summer.”

Cars stranded in the middle of a flooded street in Miami-Dade, Florida.
Flash flooding in Miami-Dade. Image courtesy of Miami Herald.

So how does rainfall impact wastewater infrastructure? During periods of severe rainfall such as this, the rate of flow in a stormwater system increases and can exceed the treatment facility’s capacity, as well as potentially cause overflows.  The influx of water into a system also brings sand.  Sand, unlike other debris such as rag material, FOGs, and grit, is an unintended consequence of increased inflow into collection systems.

What can utilities do to prevent or address these issues when they occur?

One obvious solution is to rebuild or repair infrastructure.  But these projects can be costly to cities and taxpayers.  Employing barriers around key assets or diverting flow may also be a short-term solution. 

Another more cost-effective solution is to perform regular maintenance to ensure collection and treatment systems can operate at full capacity when needed.  When wet season flows increase significantly compared to dry season flows, sand can be transported into the collection and treatment systems and may be accumulating without anyone noticing.  Since the water in tanks at facilities are not see-through, accumulated sand at the bottom of these tanks remain unseen and unnoticed.  Eventually, the increase of sand into wastewater treatment infrastructure can reduce treatment volume and increase energy use.  Over time, this buildup can potentially cause overflows and other issues if the system is not able to operate at full capacity.

This is where regular maintenance can work to a facility’s advantage.  If the cost of annual maintenance is less than the amount it would take to rebuild or repair infrastructure, then removing sand at the treatment system may be the best option.

Is there an end in site for all this rain?

Rainy season in Florida typically lasts from Mid-May through Mid-October, with the heaviest rainfall occurring in June, July, and August.  We can expect the soggy weather to subside sometime late October, traditionally the beginning of Florida’s dry months. 

As for this week, forecasts show that parts of Florida may finally get the opportunity to dry out.  Scattered showers are shown across the state but are predicted to be more in line with a traditional Florida summer.  The wet weather West, Central and South Florida were experiencing last week is now headed to the panhandle where flood warnings have been issued.

Flash flooding risk warning issued for Florida Panhandle.
Panhandle forecast courtesy of WJCT.

Interested in learning more about instituting a maintenance plan at your facility?

One of our knowledgeable representatives would be happy to explore options to combat high flows, remove sand and grit, and restore valuable capacity to your collection or treatment infrastructure.  Contact us here or call (844) 765-7866.

Oxidation Ditches Cleaned of 630-Tons of Sand and Grit



Two structures at the Mount Dora Wastewater Treatment Plant were overdue for cleaning, having built up a significant amount of sand and grit as well as other debris over the last 15-years.  USST crew mobilized to the site armed with the versatile Combination Truck, well-prepared to handle the multiple setups needed to complete the project.

A large oxidation ditch measuring approximately 50-feet wide by 330-feet in length was the first structure the crew tackled.  While the structure was in full operation, USST utilized the Combination Truck’s downhole pump and 49-foot extendable boom combined with the GritGone Process® to remove approximately 287-tons of sand and grit material.  Because the tank did not have to be taken offline or drained down in this case, confined space entry was not required.

USST Extended Boom at work in oxidation tank in Mount Dora; blue extended boom reaching out over full tank of water in operation.

Next, the USST crew turned to the second structure needing to be cleaned, an oxidation ditch and grit removal chamber measuring approximately 40-feet wide by 130-feet in length.  A drain down was necessary to effectively reach the material, and all work was performed via confined space entry by the USST crew. 

The Combination Truck’s powerful vacuum technology was utilized to remove approximately 343-tons of sand, grit, biosolids, and rag material.  The vacuum is powered by a blower capable of delivering nearly double the CFM of a standard vacuum truck.  This allowed the crew to remove large amounts of material and complete the job quickly. 

Mount Dora oxidation ditch post-cleaning; an emtpy concrete structure.

“Every setup of USST’s Combination Truck was utilized on this project between the two structures,” said Paul Del Favero, one of USST’s seasoned Field Supervisors.  “Having the ability to switch between downhole pumping and vacuum modes depending on the situation allows us to always be prepared for what we find on a project.”

In total, approximately 630-tons were removed from the two Mount Dora structures and were disposed of offsite, restoring capacity to the treatment plant.

The city was also able to take advantage of Florida’s Sand and Grit Grant Program, which makes it possible for communities to address the ongoing issues of sand and grit accumulation in wastewater treatment facilities by reimbursing 50-100% of restoration costs.  If you are a publicly-owned, Florida municipality with an average daily flow of 3MGD or less, you may be eligible for state grant assistance.  Call (844) 765-7866 or email our knowledgeable representative, Michelle Roberts at to get details about Florida’s Sand and Grit Grant Program.


Need a structure cleaned quickly or have a facility that must remain online?  USST is well-equipped to perform sand and grit removal from both wet or dry conditions, while in operation, and can do so at a higher production rate than most vacuum trucks.  Give one of our representatives a call for a free site assessment at (844) 765-7866 or contact us to learn more.

Capacity Restored to Blocked 60-Inch Stormwater Pipe



U.S. Submergent Technologies (USST) recently performed sand and grit removal services for Miami-Dade’s Department of Transportation and Public Works on a 110-foot section of 60-inch surcharged stormwater pipe which was experiencing reduced capacity due to a buildup of sand.

Aaron Hood, one of USST’s veteran Field Supervisors, lead the USST crew through the Miami-Dade project from start to finish, beginning with a pre-cleaning inspection, the removal of sand, and wrapping up with a post-cleaning inspection to confirm the work performed. 

To prepare for the cleaning, an inspection was performed using USST’s pipe profiling sonar unit on their combined Sonar/CCTV truck with PACP Certified operator to give the crew visibility to conditions inside 60-inch pipe.  USST’s underwater sonar image provides a preview of sediment build up, visibility to sections of pipe that may be in need of maintenance, and better prepares the crew for the project ahead.

“The inspection was performed through an access point in the right of way requiring a Maintenance of Traffic permit, said Aaron.  “One lane of traffic was closed in order to access the upstream manhole.”

USST’s unique Combination Truck with extended boom, downhole pump, and jetter were utilized to travel the 110-foot length of pipe.  The crew accessed the pipe from the outfall in the Miami River and cleaned towards the upstream manhole, removing sand while under surcharged conditions.  Water from inside the pipe was used during the process and no outside water source or drain down was needed to complete the project.

A post-cleaning inspection was also completed by USST to confirm all material had been removed.

“Almost 32-tons of sand were removed from the surcharged stormwater pipe,” said Aaron, “restoring approximately 30% of its capacity and without having to drain it down or resort to confined space entry.” 

The Miami-Dade project was completely quickly, safely, and on schedule. 

Wondering what’s in your pipe or tank?  USST can deliver live inspection feeds providing comprehensive reports and video for both pre- and post- cleaning inspections.  Performing these inspections allow USST to deliver a more tailored solution and generates a quicker outcome due to having a clear understanding of the problem to solve.

Give one of our representatives a call to schedule an inspection to get visibility to an issue your facility may be facing or to learn more about USST’s specialties in hard-to-reach environments both in surcharged or submerged conditions.  Call (844) 765-7866 or email us at

Check out our video to learn more about the Combination Truck and GritGone Process®.

Splitter Box Cleaned While in Operation


A Central Florida utility was experiencing reduced capacity in a splitter box due to a significant buildup of sand and grit. 

Wastewater treatment facilities typically employ a splitter box to separate influent flow to various structures such as aeration basins or clarifiers.  This Central Florida splitter box had a visible level of sand above the water line that needed to be cleaned, and the structure measured approximately 40-feet by 25-feet.  The utility was also unable to divert flow or take the structure offline, adding another level of complexity to the project.

Buildup of sand in splitter box

USST crew mobilized to the site, bringing with them a powerhouse of equipment, the Combination Truck, outfitted with extended boom, downhole pump, and jetter.  While the splitter box was in full operation, USST utilized the GritGone Process® to remove 22-cubic yards of sand and grit.  Because the box did not have to be taken offline or drained down, risky confined space entry was not necessary.

“Cleaning in submerged conditions while in operation is our specialty,” said Denver Stutler, Jr., USST CEO.  “Not having to drain down structures and keep our crew out of confined space allows us to solve problems that may not have been previously solvable.”

Splitter box in operation.

Cleaning structures while they remain online can also save a client valuable time and resources in order to remove material.  USST’s equipment performs best in submerged and surcharged conditions, and structure height or depth is almost never an issue for the Combination Truck.

Have a structure that needs attention?  Call one of our knowledgeable representatives for a free quote or to ask any questions by calling (844) 765-7866 or contact us here.

Camaraderie & Team Spirit Takeover the FWRC


JEA's team, Fecal Matters lined up on the Ops Challenge awards ceremony stage; 5 team members in a row, holding shiny blue hardhats in front with their logo onthe front, "JEA."

If you were to speak to any member of the six teams competing in this year’s Ops Challenge at the 2019 Florida Water Resources Conference, chances are you’d hear them say how thankful they are to be a part of the challenge and the great camaraderie the event fosters.  With two newcomers and a few veteran teams participating in the event’s 27th year, there was plenty of competitive spirit to go around, and we’ve got the 2019 Ops Challenge results.

Known as the “Olympics of the Wastewater Industry,” the Ops Challenge follows teams of four as they compete in a series of events, including Process Control, Laboratory, Maintenance, Collections, and Safety in an effort to secure a spot at the national competition at WEFTEC. All five events are representative of the skillset an Operator should have.  Participating in the event also requires coming up with a clever group name.  Returning teams included Positive Influents from Destin, St. Petersburg’s Dirty Birds, JEA Utilities’ Fecal Matters, the Orange County Outlaws, as well as newcomers Sludge Soldiers from Tallahassee, and Polk County’s Biowizards.

Tallahassee's Sludge Soldiers performing the Ops Challenge Collections event; 4 team members in black shirts and black hardhats bent over a bright green pipe.

Brad Hayes, Ops Challenge Director for eight years and member of the committee for 16 years, has worked alongside Chris Fasnacht, longest sitting Chair of the Ops Challenge committee for the past 13 years, to develop the Florida Regional Ops Challenge into the respected event that it is today. 

“When I first got involved 16 years ago, Florida wasn’t very well established,” said Hayes.  “There were only two teams back then and no sponsors.  We’ve gathered more participation as well as sponsorship support, because that’s what sends these guys to Nationals.”

With Ops Challenge event numbers down overall across the country due to a variety of reasons including a retiring workforce, high maintenance demands in local service areas, and other concerns, Florida is one of the few areas that hasn’t seen a decline in participation.

“The challenges were held at the back of the hall when I first started, and we’ve successfully worked to make it the central event of the conference,” reflected Fasnacht.  “I think it’s a great development tool for employees and for guys to get exposure. Management and directors are well represented at this conference and this is a chance for the guys to come out and meet other people and groups and to showcase their skill.”

JEA's Fecal Matters team during the Ops Challenge Maintenance event challenge; 3 team members in blue shirts and shiny blue matching hardhats moving a large contraption.

JEA Utilities’ team, Fecal Matters, returned for their 5th competition, hoping to make it to Nationals for the third year in a row, having made it to Nationals in both 2017 and 2018.  Mike Fowler, Utilities Pipe Fitter Crew Leader for JEA and Fecal Matters coach, co-founded JEA’s original team in 2014.

“Our first year was terrible, but we won the team spirit award,” reminisced Fowler.  “It’s good to see how we have evolved.  I love [the Challenge] because of the way we can showcase what we do out in the field.”

Jason Jolly, JEA’s team captain for the second year in a row, commented on how he appreciates being able to have the opportunity to make friends with utilities from new places. 

“We help each other out and still complete against each other,” said Jolly.  “It’s a lot of fun.”

Robby Addy, JEA team member for the past two years, enjoys the competitiveness and the camaraderie.

“It’s nice to get out of the field, meet a lot of new people and contacts, and you learn a lot about the business,” said Addy.

JEA performed well in all five events, coming in second with a score of 436.07 in this year’s Challenge.

Destin's team Positive Influents during the Ops Challenge Safety event; 3 team members in gray shirts and blue hardhats getting ready to begin with 4th team member looking on from the right side.

Team Positive Influents from Destin Water Users, Inc. (DWU) is one of the smallest and only private organization competing in their third Ops Challenge, representing a total of 65 employees.  Lead by Logan Law, Destin’s Wastewater Operations Specialist, the team’s goal was to come in first in this year’s Challenge after narrowly missing Nationals in 2018 by coming in third in last year’s regional competition.

“This is an awesome event with a good group of people, great for networking,” said Logan.  “We’re competing against bigger cities with bigger resources, and sometimes we have to use our imagination when training.”

After coming in first in both the Process Control and Laboratory events, Destin’s Positive Influents met their 2019 goal and took first place overall in this year’s Challenge. 

Polk County's Biowizards getting 5th place trophy at the Ops Challenge awards ceremony; 5 team members in matching blue shits lined up on stage.

Polk County newcomers, the Biowizards, participated for the first time this year, and trained with the Orange County Outlaws to prepare for the events.

“Our guys worked really hard over the last few weeks,” said Biowizards coach, Chuck Nichols. “If it hadn’t been for Orange County, we wouldn’t have been competitive, we would have just been learning.”

Polk County came in fifth place after performing well in both the Maintenance and Safety categories.

Team Positive Influents from Destin at the Ops Challenge awards ceremony posing with 1st place trophy; 5 team members in matching gray shirts lined up on stage.

Orange County Outlaws took third, while St. Petersburg’s Dirty Birds took fourth.  Polk County’s Biowizards and Tallahassee’s Sludge Soldiers took fifth and sixth, respectively.  JEA will continue on to their third Nationals Challenge while Destin attends Nationals for the first time, both teams representing Florida at WEFTEC in Chicago this September.

2019 Ops Challenge final scores; whiteboard with 6 team names and their scores in each event.


USST at FWRC, Tampa, FL

5 USST team members in company booth at the Florida Water Resources Conference in Tampa, Florida.

Last week, USST exhibited for the 6th year in a row at this year’s 2019 Florida Water Resources Conference.  Our team had the opportunity to meet and greet with customers from both public and private facilities and we enjoyed speaking with everyone who stopped by the booth.

The highlight of the conference is the Florida Regional Ops Challenge, where six teams compete for two spots to showcase their talents in the national challenge this September in Chicago at WEFTEC.   You can read about how each team performed and who is advancing to Nationals in our blog post here.

If you missed us at FWRC, you can catch us at the next event.  Keep an eye on our Conferences page which we’ll update as new events are scheduled, or simply give us a call to make an appointment at any time at (844) 765-7688.

1,575-Tons Removed from Oxidation Ditch


Aerial view of oxidation ditch before cleaning.  A concrete structure filled with green vegetation and sludge.

An oxidation ditch at the Westside Regional Water Reclamation Facility (WRF) in Daytona Beach, Florida was due for cleaning as part of a larger rehabilitation plan, having built up a significant amount of sand, grit, and vegetation.  Measuring approximately 550-feet long by 120-feet wide with walls 20-feet in height, USST mobilized to the site prepared to perform sand and grit removal services.  The crew completed the job in record time, well-ahead of schedule, motivated, perhaps, by being in the speed capital of the state.

“U.S. Submergent [Technologies] completed their work ahead of schedule and with no disruption to the existing plant operations or other construction activities onsite.”

– Joe DeHart, Project Manager, PC Construction

Paul Del Favero, one of USST’s seasoned Field Supervisors, arrived with a team ready to remove the large quantities of sand, grit, and vegetation material from the oxidation ditch.  A drain down was necessary to effectively reach the material, and all work was performed via confined space entry by the USST crew.  

“We follow all safety precautions when performing confined space entry work,” said Paul.  “It’s important to get it right the first time.”  With 80(+) hours of safety compliance and on-the-job training completed by each team member, the USST crew has daily meetings to review the day’s upcoming work and to ensure all required PPE and safety equipment are in use.

USST’s Combination truck was utilized on the jobsite and employs a vacuum powered by a blower capable of delivering nearly double the CFM of a standard vacuum truck.  This allows the crew to remove large amounts of dry material and complete the job quickly. 

“It’s not your average vac truck,” said Denver Stutler, Jr., USST’s CEO. “Like a well-precisioned pit crew, the capabilities of our Combination truck and the intense training our guys complete enable our team to run at a high production rate.”

Approximately 1,575 total tons of material were removed from the oxidation ditch well ahead of the projected schedule, restoring capacity to the structure. 

“I’m very proud of the accomplishments of the entire crew and their performance in Daytona,” said Paul Del Favero.  “Everyone pitched in, worked safely, and got the job done in record time for the client.”

USST partnered with the PC Construction Company on the Daytona project.  Joe DeHart, Project Manager for PC Construction, has been in the industry for 18 years and with PC Construction for three.

“U.S. Submergent [Technologies] exceeded our expectations with their work on this project,” said Joe.  “They worked very quickly to complete the work, but more importantly, they worked safely.  U.S. Submergent [Technologies] completed their work ahead of schedule and with no disruption to the existing plant operations or other construction activities onsite.”  


Need a structure cleaned quickly or have a facility that must remain online?  The many capabilities of the USST crew and equipment are well-equipped to remove sand, grit and other material from both wet or dry conditions, while in operation, and can do so at a higher production rate than most vac trucks.  Give one of our representatives a call for a free site assessment at (844) 765-7866 or email to learn more.