Steve Wilson, Brown & Caldwell
“I had a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Science but no real tools for solving environmental problems.” Sound familiar? There are a few folks who woke up one day and knew they wanted to study biosolids, work with biosolids, and promote beneficial use. Maybe they were inspired by one of you. But most of us happened upon biosolids. We thought to ourselves, “eh…don’t know what this is really but it sounds environmental” or “this is sort of what I studied”. What hooked many of us, Steve included, was that biosolids are a real, practical tool to solve environmental problems.
Read how Steve 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 didn’t really have a clue. I had a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Science but no real tools for solving environmental problems. I was doing farm and ranch work, and considering graduate school. A research assistantship opportunity came up in the soils department at WSU. They had a grant from Seattle Metro (now King County) to look into beneficial use of something called “sewage sludge” It seemed like a good opportunity to merge my interests in the environment and agriculture, so I accepted the position.
How did you end up working with biosolids?
My MS thesis title “Nitrogen Availability from Sewage Sludge Amended Soils” made me highly qualified for my first professional job as a soil scientist at Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). At the time, the agency was interested in developing guidelines for land application. That was in 1978, before guidelines and regulations existed.
Why did you continue to work with biosolids?
My position with Department of Environmental Quality was eliminated in an economic downturn in 1981. However, pending federal regulations created some demand for a person with my new skill set. No full time jobs were available in that economy, but I found opportunities as a consultant. That path served me well, allowing me to make a living and continue to facilitate science-based recycling projects.
What has changed the most over your career in biosolids management?
Technology, without a doubt. Many Class A process technologies are still relatively expensive but having some diversity of choices keeps the work interesting and fits in situations where Class B is not viable.
What do you envision for the future of biosolids management?
I hope to see others duplicate the success of Tacoma’s cost-effective Class A program, at least on a partial scale so the public has an opportunity to relate to the benefits of biosolids recycling.
What makes you inspired to keep working in the biosolids world?
It used to be just about recycling nutrients and organic matter, but now greenhouse gas reduction seems like an urgent and compelling reason to promote beneficial use. I am happy to see young professionals in our community that understand the science behind climate change and biosolids and are making progress for our future.
Something you may not know about Steve…
I am an aspiring bluegrass musician and have achieved advanced beginner competency on dobro, mandolin, and guitar.
And last but not least, thank you to all the biosolids experts that have inspired Steve - and the rest of us!
Who did you learn the most from over your career?
My original mentor and supervisor at DEQ was a soil scientist named Bob Paeth. He gave me an incredible amount of practical knowledge about soil classification and variability. As I phase into retirement I have more flexibility on my assignments, so I am able to share my expertise with others and focus on being a mentor to the next generation of young professionals.