Since 1992, Kurt Bookout has worked for the City of El Dorado, striving to maintain quality water and wastewater services for the citizens. On December 25, Bookout will retire from the city as the Director of Public Utilities.
“I have thoroughly enjoyed my career with the City of El Dorado,” Bookout said. “It has been extremely rewarding and I still enjoy going to work every day. I will miss the people I work with.”
Bookout began his career with the City in 1992, when he was hired as the Water Treatment Superintendent. He added Superintendent of Wastewater to his duties in 1995, then in 2000, when his mentor, Richard Porter, retired, he became Director of Public Utilities.
During Bookout’s time as Director, he has accomplished some major projects and the department has received numerous awards.
“The thing I have enjoyed most is problem solving,” Bookout said.
One such problem arose in the 1990s when Bookout’s predecessor told Bookout he would be building another wastewater facility within ten years. This was a challenge Bookout looked forward to solving.
In 1997, Bookout toured Texaco refinery’s constructed wetlands, a project implemented by one of his friends from Kansas State University. The wetlands were built in an attempt to get the refinery in compliance with bio-monitoring/toxicity testing.
Bookout said the wetlands were successful, so he began wondering if wetlands had a place in the treatment of municipal wastewater. He said KDHE and EPA had already warned that El Dorado needed plans to build a new treatment facility that could handle peak flow events of up to 17 MGD, even though average daily flows were only 2 MGD.
“What I loved about this was that it was not just problem solving, but it was uncharted territory,” Bookout said.
Bookout pitched the concept to City Manager, Stan Stewart, to pilot a wetlands treatment system and he supported the idea. The pilot wetlands was built in 1998 and after a three-year study, they found that wetlands were very effective at storing and treating excess flows from big rain events. The wetlands could store and treat up to 20 MG and the plant was designed to handle 6 MGD peak flows.
“We were the first facility in Kansas to build constructed wetlands for the treatment of municipal wastewater,” he said. “It allowed the City to downsize the plant from 17 MGD to 6 MGD, saving the city $3 to $4 million.”
In 2008, El Dorado won the State and then National American Public Works (APWA) Environmental Project of the Year awards.
“We are very proud of the facility and our staff,” he said.
The facility continues to receive awards. They have won best wastewater facility in Kansas every year since 2009 (sitting out of the competition every third year). They also have won the best biosolids management award twice, best laboratory award, national safety award and numerous individual awards for the employees.
“Both our water and wastewater facilities are widely known throughout Kansas,” Bookout said, adding that El Dorado has been used as examples to other communities.
In addition, the water treatment plant is 83 years old and is in better condition today than it has ever been. El Dorado has now won the Best Tasting Water in Kansas award twice and the city is recognized around the state as having great water quality.
Bookout also has been very involved with a number of organizations. He has been a member of the Walnut Basin Advisory Committee for thirteen years and on the REAP Water Board for seven years, been a member of AWWA for twenty-seven years and KWEA for twenty-one years, served on the Equus/Walnut Regional Advisory Committee, been a AWWA rep for KDHE Public Water Supply Fee Fund Committee, served as Kansas Water Environment Association President from 2015-16, served as Rotary Club president from 2008-09 and been a member for fifteen years, and been an El Dorado Crime Stoppers board member for nine years, serving as president 2015-16.
Bookout also is a member of the Water for People nonprofit organization that creates reliable access to safe drinking water resources, sanitation facilities and hygiene education programs in Africa, Asia, Central America and South America. The “Water Buffalos” often go on motorcycle rides to raise money for this purpose. Bookout is currently the regional director for the group.
“I try to instill in our employees how important it is to be involved in professional organizations,” Bookout said. “A good part of my success is due to my relationships with people in these organizations.”
In addition to his Bachelor of Science degree in Environmental Biology from KSU, Bookout also has received a Cross Connection/Backflow Prevention certification, is a Kansas Environmental Leadership Program (KELP) graduate and received State of Kansas Class IV Certifications in Water and Wastewater.
Bookout said he plans to stay connected with the water and wastewater organizations after he retires. He has already been approached to be a consultant and travel to help solve facilities’ issues through contract work.
Bookout also has plans to travel and spend time with his grandchildren. “As anyone who has grandchildren will tell you, spending time with them trumps everything,” he said.
Bookout and his wife, Kacy, also love to travel and once Kacy retires at the end of this school year, they will be able to take some extended trips to visit their exchange students in Germany, Italy and Chile.
“My newest passion, besides grandchildren, is adventure riding on my BMW GS1200 Adventure,” he said. “And, we’ve added a BMW GTL 1600 touring bike so Kacy and I can take some long trips together.”
Anyone who would like to send a card congratulating Kurt on his retirement may send cards to his attention at City of El Dorado, 220 E. First Ave, El Dorado, KS 67042.