Success Stories - Ben Nelson

Nick Obernolte

Ellsworth resident Ben Nelson recently attempted and completed a rarity. The U.S. Navy Veteran took five Iowa Department of Natural Resource (DNR) Operator Certification Exams and successfully completed all five on his first attempt.

The exams he completed include:

  • Water Treatment Grade 1
  • Water Distribution Grade 1
  • Wastewater Treatment Grade 1
  • Water Treatment Grade 2
  • Wastewater Treatment Grade 2

“To the best of my knowledge, I don’t think we’ve had another student in our Water Environmental Technology (WET) program accomplish so much in so little time,” said DMACC Water Environmental Technology Program Chair and Lead Instructor Stephen Moehlmann.

He said this is such a specialized field that most students don’t have any water or wastewater experience. The IDNR requires one year of experience for their Grade 1 exams and three years of experience for their Grade 2 exams. IDNR credited Ben’s Naval and USDA National Animal Disease Center experience working on water and wastewater systems towards these exams.

“What makes this accomplishment even more special is that Ben is half-way through his second semester in the WET AAS degree program. He made the Dean’s list his first semester.

With these IDNR certifications, Ben can work as a certified operator in any water or wastewater facility in Iowa.

Nelson is utilizing some of the skills he learned as an 11 and a half year veteran on a U.S. nuclear-powered submarine. While on the submarine, Nelson said algae was actually planted in the water supply to help keep the drinking water safe as the submarine traversed through various ecosystems and international waters.

Nelson also has experience working in the boiler system at the U.S.D.A. lab in Ames. Water quality remains a significant aspect of his career today as he pursues an Associate of Applied Science degree in DMACC’s Water Environmental Technology program.

Nelson said his family converted a former hog production operation into raising fish commercially. In the fall of 2015, VeroBlue Farms in Webster City bought the former Electrolux washing-machine factory that had closed in 2011. The 270,000-square-foot warehouse now houses 240 tanks with each containing 3,000 fingerlings of haddock salmon, sockeye salmon, barramundi (sea bass) and hybrid striped bass from Maine, Alaska and Australia. Once the farm-raised fish have grown, they are then sold to live fish markets in New York, Seattle, St. Louis, Chicago, Los Angeles and other locations here in the United States and now overseas.

“VeroBlue’s proprietary aquaculture system puts no stress on the world’s water supply because of our unprecedented 96 percent water recovery rate,” said Nelson. “We use pure water, drawn from local wells and captured from our facilities’ roofs. As the water is used in our process, we constantly filter it, and return it, nutrient-rich, back to the farms.”

Nelson said it’s important to him to be as knowledgeable as possible in using our water resources.

“Water has played a major role in every career field I’ve worked in from an early age,” said Nelson. “After fighting an increasingly tough struggle raising typical Iowa livestock, our family decided that fish are a much more ‘community friendly’ livestock that won’t cause problems for the neighbors. In today’s agriculture, it’s more important than ever to keep our natural resources clear and useful. Throughout the world, water is an important resource to life and I want to do my part to ensure the water is here for future generations to use and enjoy.”

Nelson has one more year at DMACC before he graduates with his Water Environmental Technology degree. He said he plans to take his Water Distribution Grade 2 Certification exam soon.

A career in Water Environmental Technology, includes how to operate and maintain equipment, calculate chemical dosages, adjust chemicals and pH, take test samples, evaluate results and more.