Right At Home

Paul Rivett has devoted his professional life to water treatment for Seneca, Ill. His hard work has brought excellent service to the village and awards to him.
Right At Home
Paul Rivett (on top of detention and aerator tanks from Tonka Equipment Company) is proud to serve his home community of Seneca, Ill.

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Paul Rivett knows that when the phone rings, he’ll be heading out to handle whatever problem has developed in the water system in the Village of Seneca, Ill. Those demands haven’t kept him from improving the water treatment plant aeration system and updating the distribution system to make sure customers have safe, reliable water service.

Rivett, the 2010 Illinois Potable Water Operator Association Groundwater Operator of the Year, has been with this village of 2,200 people for 23 years and has been the superintendent of water and wastewater for nine. The 260,000 gpd water plant is one of the first hydrous manganese oxide (HMO) radium removal plants in northern Illinois.

Under his leadership, the village renovated the water plant in 2008-09, greatly improving its ability to remove contaminants that occur naturally in the two wells.


Safe water

The water in the village’s 700-foot-deep Well 2 contains radium and hydrogen sulfide, while the 1,500-foot-deep Well 3 contains radium and iron. The plant’s new HMO system, from Tonka Equipment Company, uses a pre-mixed solution called TonkaZorb to remove the radium.

“It’s pre-oxidized manganese sulfite/potassium permanganate, so it doesn’t need any retention time,” explains Rivett. “The radium naturally adheres to the manganese so we can filter it out.”

Treatment starts in a 390 gpm 30-foot packed air stripping tower, which replaced a 260 gpm stripper that was too small for the renovated plant. The air stripping tower is filled with wiffle-ball-like objects that help clean the water as it flows through. “Air is blown up through the tower while the water trickles down through the wiffle balls,” explains Rivett. The turbulence combined with the airflow strips the hydrogen sulfide from Well 2 and expels it into the atmosphere.

The same tower removes the iron that comes from Well 3. “The iron is in dissolved form in the raw water, but when you run air through it, the iron becomes solid (oxidizes) so it can be filtered,” explains Rivett.


Full compliance

The water flows into a 5,560-gallon detention tank. The TonkaZorb is injected as the water is being pumped through a 30-foot pipe to the filters, which remove both the radium (attached to the TonkaZorb) and the residual iron. The filters are backwashed once or twice a week.

The measures taken to improve water quality have resulted in Seneca being in full compliance with drinking water regulations — and the village is no longer on a watch list of plants with high radium levels.

Radium levels in the finished water are now 1.0 (±0.65) pCi/l. That compares to previous levels of 6.97 pCi/l before the plant improvements. Rivett says the radium levels in the raw water are 13.21 pCi/l in Well 2 and 5.93 pCi/l in Well 3. Because of the success of the treatment system, there are no longer radium warnings on water bills, and testing has been reduced from quarterly to annually.

The raw water iron content can be as high as 0.42 mg/L, but the treatment process brings that down to a maximum of 0.02 mg/L. Rivett doesn’t measure the water’s hydrogen sulfide content because it is a nuisance due to the odor, not a health threat.

The project was planned by the village’s engineering firm, Chamlin & Associates. It cost just over $1 million and was financed with low-interest loans through the Illinois EPA.


Getting his hands dirty

What earned Rivett the statewide award was something much more basic than the new treatment process: replacing seven key water distribution system valves with little outside help. “They’d been in the ground since 1927, and earlier,” says Rivett.

The project stemmed from a need to replace 15 fire hydrants, but Rivett didn’t want to disrupt water service to the entire village to accomplish that. So he spent nine months planning the work to minimize impact on customers. He thought it might take three or four days to replace the valves, ranging in size from 6 to 8 inches, that were no longer usable because of their age.

Helping Rivett with the job were street superintendent Scott Holman and maintenance technician Jimmy Applebee, all three licensed operators for both water and wastewater. They hired Jamie Hicks of Illinois Valley Excavating to help because he had the right equipment, besides being a good operator and “a local guy and a real go-getter,” according to Rivett. “I knew that if Scott and Jimmy were cutting out the valves and Jamie and I were putting in the new valves, it would go pretty quickly.”


Fast and inexpensive

The team also got help from village street commissioner John Lamb, who used to be a crane operator. Lamb borrowed a crane from a contractor in town and took care of lifting the valves. The valves had been excavated and the pipes marked for cutting ahead of time. “It was just a case of cut out the pipe, slide in the valve, tighten two couplings and move on to the next one,” says Rivett.

The work took just nine hours, and the total cost for parts and outside labor was only $1,500. Rivett, Holman and Applebee have since replaced the 15 hydrants. Now when there is a leak, Rivett can shut down just a small section of the village’s water system. As money becomes available, he hopes to add more valves so he can isolate the water distribution system street by street.

Rivett would like to continue eliminating old war-time pumping vaults throughout the village, and there are still old waterlines that should be replaced. “We’ve discussed putting up another water tower on the south end of the village,” he says. It’s all a matter of when money becomes available.


Requires dedication

Rivett has lived in Seneca his entire life, except for four years in the Air Force. “I never wanted to live anywhere else,” he says. He took a pay cut 23 years ago when a village commissioner asked if he was interested in a job.

After about 15 years, the village asked him to take some classes in wastewater at the local Illinois Valley Community College. He also took classes from Gary Adriane at the water treatment plant in Aurora, Ill., for water treatment licenses.

Now he’s the guy in charge of all of his neighbors’ water and wastewater — not bad for someone who came to the village with a high school diploma. “I’m proud to have 23 years here working for the public,” he says. “I’m a pretty hard worker, and I can say I’ve done a pretty good job for them.”


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