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40-year career comes to an end for Willmar, Minn., wastewater treatment worker

Les Lange is retiring after 42 years working in the wastewater treatment field. He has spent the past 26 years working for the Willmar plant. Tribune photo by Ron Adams

WILLMAR -- After 40 years of working in the wastewater treatment field, Les Lange really knows his stuff.

Fellow workers say Lange's wide knowledge, opinion and advice in the process of cleaning and treating wastewater will be missed when he retires today.

Beginning in 1972, Lange worked at wastewater treatment facilities in Canby, Pipestone and Lakefield over a span of 14 years.

He came to Willmar in 1986 and worked as an operator. He was promoted to assistant lab technician and safety coordinator in 1992.

"Les has been a mentor, friend and a valuable resource (wealth of knowledge) that will be missed by all staff,'' said Colleen Thompson, superintendent of Willmar's Wastewater Treatment Facility. "We wish him the best in his retirement.''

At the Sept. 17 City Council meeting, City Administrator Charlene Stevens thanked Lange for his years of service with the city.

"We wish Les well, but he certainly will be missed by the city of Willmar,'' Stevens said.

An avid hunter and fisherman, Lange is passionate about the environment and the potential effects a treatment plant can have on the environment if wastewater is not managed properly.

Lange says the new treatment facility, which began operation in the fall of 2010, is a good investment.

One of Lange's tasks is to help monitor wastewater at each stage through the treatment system. He tests the water for microorganisms such as coliform bacteria. He measures phosphorus, nitrogen and dissolved oxygen levels.

Lange says there are many challenges in wastewater treatment that are only going to increase. One challenge is urging the public to properly dispose of pharmaceuticals. The Law Enforcement Center has a collection box for property disposal of drugs.

He says antibiotics flushed down the toilet interfere with the good bacteria working to clean the wastewater.

"What you're doing is killing off beneficial bacteria,'' he said.

Lange credits his longevity in the field to enjoying the challenge of solving problems wherever he's worked.

"By looking at a sample in the microscope, you know what's going to happen in any plant a week before it happens,'' he said. "Take a sample, find out what you have living there, and go from there.''

Also, he's enjoyed working with fellow employees.

"There's a time for a laugh and there's a time for doing business. I'm going to miss them every day.''

Lange plans to spend more time with his grandchildren and hunting and fishing, adding he won't be bored.

After 40-plus years, wastewater facility employee calls it a career

David Little
David Little covers the Willmar City Council, Willmar Municipal Utilities and other city news.
(320) 235-1150