Presidents Award-winning Ephrata Joint Authority plant uses data to fine-tune processes and produce consistently high-quality water.
The Pennsylvania Amish Country celebrates old ways, but the Ephrata Area Joint Authority’s Church Avenue Filter Plant isn’t tied to the past. The staff has pushed the plant’s performance well beyond state permit requirements.
The authority manages the water needs of 24,500 residents in Clay Township, Ephrata Township and Ephrata Borough. The filtration plant was a winner of a 2016 Presidents Award from the Partnership for Safe Water.
The authority draws from three wells and from Cocalico Creek, which runs through the borough and not too far from the filtration plant. Well water flows to a building that provides corrosion control, air stripping and disinfection. Well 1 produces 1,000 gpm, and Well 2 adds 200 gpm. Well 4 has nanofiltration equipment because the aquifer it taps is high in sulfates and total dissolved solids. Well 3 has been drilled but not developed; it is being held in reserve for growth.
“The borough itself is old, but Ephrata and Clay townships are not, and both have a lot of development potential,” says Joe Pezzino, the authority’s chief operator. “We’re only 10 minutes from the turnpike, and we’re beginning to see more businesses and satellite offices in the area.” The service territory lies about 70 miles northwest of Philadelphia.
Cocalico Creek brings all the challenges of a surface water source that is influenced by rains upstream. At some times it is high in nitrates washing off farm fields. During winter, road salt washes into the creek. “We can treat the water no matter what’s in the creek,” Pezzino says. “But because we can draw water from multiple sources, we shut the filtration plant down during rains and use only the wells until the creek water improves, or we reduce the inflow from the creek to give us an edge on treatment. There’s no point in using a lot of chemicals to treat creek water if we don’t have to.”
It’s always a balancing task to combine the sources. Water quality trumps everything, but there are also issues of cost and managing resources.
Partnering for change
Well 4 is the most costly source because of the nanofiltration equipment. It’s drilled in sandstone and pulls from a large area, but because of its depth it brings up sulfates and TDS, as does Well 2. Water from those wells is blended with water from Well 1, which taps an aquifer flowing from the nearby hills to Cocalico Creek. “After we consider water quality, the first thing we look for is what levels we want our resources to be at during any given season,” Pezzino says. “Then we look at the lowest cost to achieve that.”
The authority draws on extensive data on the historical levels of its wells. “We don’t stress our wells, and we have plans for contingencies so when problems come up it’s not a crisis but just another day in the office,” Pezzino says. With that history of collecting and using information, it was a natural step for the authority to join the Partnership for Safe Water.
“What the Partnership taught us is to gather information and look at what it tells you,” Pezzino says. For example, technicians know that ammonia will be high at certain times of year, and they understand how that will affect the plant. It’s the same with nitrates. “In the past, our system definitely was not optimized although it met all regulations and permit requirements,” says Pezzino.
“With the help of the Partnership we’ve improved on that.”
Small staff, big impact
Joining the Partnership and using its resources was the idea of Jeff Iezzi, the authority’s water quality and compliance operator, who had worked with the Partnership before. In 2014, the authority was granted the Partnership’s Phase III award for its filtration plant. Last year, the authority received the Presidents Award for reaching Phase IV, the second highest level of recognition. In 2014 and 2015, the authority also received awards for area optimization from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.
“If it wasn’t for the work with the Partnership and making our organization better, we’d never be able to do everything we do with four people,” Pezzino says. “There’s more to what we achieved. If you look at rates, we’re actually the lowest-cost provider among our peers, and the Partnership work helps us keep costs down. It also helps that we don’t have huge capital needs.”
One way the authority avoided large new capital expenditures was by not building a new filtration plant. Instead, the old building on Church Avenue underwent a significant renovation.
The old renewed
“We cleaned it up, fixed it up, automated it, brought it back to life,” Pezzino says. During the past six years, the authority has replaced the filter system, added an Aries air scour system (Roberts Filter Group), repaired the sedimentation basins, put a new roof on the building, repainted the building inside and out, and improved the piping, electrical system, automation and valves. People who visit comment on how clean the building is, Pezzino says.
“We also have a DEP-approved source plan in place, so we don’t look at just treating the water coming in, but we also look at what can we do to make the water better in our area,” he says.
Two 16-inch mains under one of the borough’s streets bring water from Cocalico Creek into the Church Avenue plant. A flowmeter (Master Meter) measures the incoming water and an inline static mix plate (Westfall Manufacturing Co.) feeds coagulants. Next, the water flows past a 24-nozzle aerator, receives prechlorination, and flows into one of two sedimentation and flocculation basins equipped with mixers (Philadelphia Mixing Solutions).
Post-chlorination comes just before water enters filters equipped with the Aries air scour system. Next is a clearwell where a Seaquest orthopolyphosphate blend (Aqua Smart Inc.) is added to inhibit corrosion. Two 75 hp/1,000 gpm pumps move water into the distribution system. The authority has standardized on Peerless pumps (Grundfos Pumps) driven by motors from U.S. Motors (Nidec Motor Corporation). Chemicals are introduced with Proseries-M Model M-2 peristaltic pumps (Blue-White Industries). That standardization makes repairs and parts inventories much easier to manage.
More to come
Besides Pezzino and Iezzi, the operations team includes Mario Asencio, Operator II, and Jai Howard, Operator III. In 2015, Pezzino was named Operator of the Year by the Pennsylvania Rural Water Association. In 2016, he was named Employee of the Year by the Pennsylvania Municipal Authorities Association.
Utility superintendent Paul Swangren, borough manager Bob Thompson, and operations director Tom Natarian have made a concerted effort to assemble a quality operations team and keep building it. “When Bob brought me in, it was because they wanted a younger person who would be here in the future,” Pezzino says. “Mario was brought in because of his knowledge of chemicals and polymers.”
Iezzi plans to retire in about five years, and managers are looking at Howard as his replacement. Howard is extremely organized and helps out by taking on data management and other administrative tasks, Pezzino says. Team members find their own niches as they discover what they like to do best. Howard and Asencio do fieldwork, and Iezzi runs the testing program and scheduled maintenance. Pezzino works with the DEP, does budgeting and purchasing, and handles the SCADA system and its upgrades.
The Ephrata team members have learned a lot and achieved a lot, on their own and with help from the Partnership. They reached the highest level of recognition but will not rest on their laurels. They’re working on Partnership Phase III recognition for the distribution system.
Going to the source
While the Ephrata Area Joint Authority is busy making its treatment operations better through its work with the Partnership for Safe Water, the staffs hope to take advantage of another partnership to improve its source.
In 2015, the state approved the authority’s plan to become part of the Pennsylvania watershed protection program. Run by the state Department of Environmental Protection, the program can provide money for public education, installing riparian buffers, building wetlands that mitigate stormwater surges, and repairing stream banks, among other activities. In fiscal 2015, the state awarded $3.26 million in U.S. EPA grants to manage nonpoint source pollution in 11 counties.
The first step, as in the safe water program, is to gather information, says Joe Pezzino, chief operator: “It takes a bunch of years to evaluate everything in an area.” That will include gathering information on gas stations with underground storage tanks that may leak, on agricultural runoff sources, and on companies that work with hazardous materials. “It’s basically pulling together all the facts so we can do a full assessment of what in the area could harm our water sources, and from that point figuring out what our best actions would be,” Pezzino says.
The authority is starting small. The first project will be to post signs around the watershed advising people to dial 911 if they see a contaminant spill. Another option is to join the Ephrata Borough program to educate people against putting grass clippings in the street because of their potential to contribute nitrogen and phosphorus to waterways, and about being careful with detergents used to wash cars. More complicated actions will require more thought.
“If we wanted to restore the banks of streams that feed into Cocalico Creek, you’re talking big-dollar items to put in riparian buffers,” says Pezzino. For other projects, a partnership would make sense. For example, if the authority wanted to work with farmers to reduce nutrient loading in runoff, it would make more sense to partner with the Natural Resources Conservation Service, whose experts work with that issue all the time and know the people.