Dan Thompson, City of Tacoma Environmental Services/Wastewater Treatment Division Manager

thompson, dan

"Does anyone remember BioFest Ocean Shores? Craig Cogger’s slides (yes they were using 35mm slides back then) were somehow lost and he did his entire presentation through what can only be described as interpretive dance. Many of us have never seen interpretative dance at BioFest, but we can relate to what inspired it – a love of biosolids, a commitment to science and research, and the desire to share this vast knowledge with others." - Dan Thompson

Many of you have learned from Dan Thompson over your own careers, and so when we asked Dan what his dream job is, you won’t be surprised by his response: “I’m livin the dream right now.” 

Read how Dan became part of the biosolids world and what he envisions for the future of biosolids, in his own words, below.  Responses have been edited for clarity and abridged for length. 

What did you think you’d do for a career, before you started working in biosolids management?
I fell in love with the Alpine Lakes Wilderness in 1971 and planned to be a forester. I worked as a forester for 7 years before going back to graduate school. 

How did you end up working with biosolids? 
I was broke after graduation and needed a job. I had intended to enter academia but I couldn’t afford to wait for the right opportunity. A fellow graduate student let me know that Seattle Metro needed somebody with field experience to lay out “sludge” forest fertilization units. It seemed like something I could do for a few months until I found a real job. (Considering Dan is still working in the biosolids world, it looks like he decided biosolids were the real deal). 

Why did you continue to work with biosolids?
The dynamic nature of the industry continues to inspire me: new products, new markets and new and interesting challenges seem to pop up every day. At the beginning, I kept working with biosolids in part it was because it was on the ground real environmental protection/enhancement work that really made a difference. Not only did I get to fertilize forests and crops I got to see the results of my work in a matter of months. With the forestry work we were improving the health of the entire forest not just accelerating the growth of the trees. As I advanced in my career, I also have been fortunate to work for supervisors that encouraged me to fail spectacularly. This has allowed me to explore new markets for biosolids create new products and to build a business model that considers the customer more than the cost. Working in an environment that encouraged innovation and looked at failure as education has given me the freedom to be more creative. This has been immensely fulfilling. 

What has changed the most over your career in biosolids management? 
The body of scientific information indicating that recycling biosolids is both safe and effective has facilitated a gradual decline in public concern about the practice. The scientific evidence for the safety of Biosolids reuse is overwhelming.

What do you envision for the future of biosolids management?
I think the trend toward almost universal recognition of biosolids as a valuable commodity will continue. In the short and medium-term I believe managing biosolids as a source of nutrients will increase but I think that people will continue to look for alternative uses and values like energy and precious metals.  

Something you may not know about Dan…
I had a brief acting career in which I appeared in exactly one made for TV movie (What was it called!?). Ironically, it co-starred Linda Evans; a celebrated biosolids opponent.

And last but not least, thank you to all the biosolids experts that have inspired Dan - and the rest of us!
Who did you learn the most from over your career? 
Peggy Leonard (King County – retired) taught me a lot about managing people. Dan Lowell (Everett - retired) taught me a lot about managing organizations. I wish I had known more about this - how municipal governments worked - when I began my career. An understanding of the forces that drive the decisions of utility managers would have decreased my frustration level markedly. (Dan did not share what these illusive forces are, but we suspect many young professionals who can relate to this sentiment might want to know…).