Whatever It Takes

Operator initiative and resourcefulness have won accolades for a Florida water treatment plant that is always looking for ways to improve operations and aesthetics.
Whatever It Takes

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Operators at the Lake Park Water Treatment Plant bring new meaning to the term, “doing it all.” With resourcefulness and a strong work ethic, they have reaped many rewards for the plant and the community.

From making their own bleach, to recycling cans and bottles and selling candy bars to fund various projects, the operators do what’s needed to produce the best-quality water and the nicest-looking plant. Just five operators handle this 42 mgd suburban Tampa plant in Lutz, Fla., which serves 182,000. They handle all water-quality complaints for the entire county and perform all operations and emergency maintenance.

The operators’ initiative and hard work have led to several awards, including 2009 Outstanding Class B Plant and 2010 and 2011 Most Improved Plant from the Florida Section AWWA (FSAWWA). For the past six years, plant team members have taken part in the AWWA Top Ops competition.

They’ve accomplished all this with a limited budget and without a pay raise in the last five years. They do it out of love for the job and for a manager who encourages them to do what they do best. “For us, it’s about pride in our plant, and we all buy into it,” says plant manager Paul Kavanagh.

Varied source water

Built in 1984, the Lake Park Water Treatment Plant is one of four operated by the Hillsborough County Public Utilities Department. Hillsborough County is one of six member governments of Tampa Bay Water, the region’s wholesale water supplier. Most of the utility’s customers receive their water from the regional supply system, which includes ground and surface water and desalinated seawater.

Groundwater is from the Floridian Aquifer, and surface water sources include the Alafia and Hillsborough rivers, Tampa Bypass Canal and the C.W. Bill Young Regional Reservoir. Tampa Bay Water treats both the surface and groundwater before it is placed into the regional system, along with drinking water produced at its desalination facility.

The Lake Park plant’s raw water is a blend of well water and water from the regional supply. The plant distributes water to residents in Tampa, Odessa, Lutz and the Dale Mabry corridor of northwest and west Hillsborough County.

Anything but conventional

The plant uses chloramination for disinfection, and adds ammonia to keep the water cleaner in the storage tanks while also binding and removing residual chlorine. What’s interesting is that the plant makes its own bleach, using a sodium hypochlorite generator.

“In 2001, we decided to start making our own bleach for several reasons,” says Kavanagh. “We did a cost study and found that it was cheaper to make it on site. At a strength of 0.8 percent, it’s also safer than using 12 percent, and it’s non-reportable.”

The ClorTec sodium hypochlorite generator (Severn Trent Services) operates by feeding softened water into a brine dissolver. The salt dissolves to form a 30 percent brine solution, which is further diluted to 12 parts water to one part brine (12:1). The 2.6 percent salt solution passes through electrolytic cells, which apply a low voltage to the brine. The resulting 0.8 percent chlorine bleach is stored in three 10,000-gallon tanks. When the level drops to a setpoint, the system automatically re-starts to replenish the supply.

Operators regularly perform a sodium hypochlorite strength test to ensure optimal system performance. “We make every effort to run the generator during non-peak hours,” says Kavanagh. “The electric company lets us know which hours the electricity is cheaper.”

The plant spends about $96 per ton for salt and uses about 700 pounds of chlorine equivalent per day. After factoring in this cost, plus electricity and maintenance, the plant saves $43,500 per year by making sodium hypochlorite rather than purchasing the bleach.

The operators trained themselves on the generator and process. “We developed a standard operating procedure from the ClorTec system operating manual to make sure we were running the system at peak efficiency,” says Kavanagh. “We have a lot of redundancy. If we lose a bleach pump, we have two others ready to go.”

Resourceful team

The decision to make bleach, and the resourcefulness to make it work, is just one example of innovative thinking that has won awards for the plant. Some other innovations include adding another ammonia tank to provide much-needed storage capacity, replacing the ammonia storage and pump building to meet Category 4 hurricane standards, cross-training the staff, and taking ongoing training to obtain higher licensure.

“The added 1,800-gallon aqua ammonia storage tank (Tanner Industries) saves money because we don’t have to split shipments with other plants,” says Kavanagh. “We can take a full delivery of ammonia when we still have an ample supply.”

Cross-training staff and trading shifts helps everyone learn new skills. “In January 2010, we decided to re-classify all our water quality field technicians, formerly called hydrant flushers,” says Kavanagh. “As operator trainees who are working toward their water license, they will be qualified and trained to run the plant as needed. They will continue to maintain their field activities with the expanded knowledge of how the water chemistry can change from plant to tap.”

Staff pride in the plant is evident in the landscaping. Flowers, shrubs and trees grace the plant’s entrance, which is visible from the highway. “The six-lane Dale Mabry Highway is about 50 feet from our entrance, so we wanted to make sure the grounds look good,” Kavanagh says.

Lacking funds for a beautification project, the operators raised the money to buy pallets of sod and various plants. They recycled cans and bottles and sold candy bars to help pay for the project. With that money, they bought a vending machine for the break room to raise money on a regular basis, while providing food and snacks for operators working long shifts.

“Anyone who comes off the freeway and drives by our plant can’t help but be impressed by how good it looks,” says Kavanagh. “When we received the 2011 Most Improved Class B Water Treatment Plant Award from the FSAWWA, we were told that one reason we won was because of the effort we put into the plant beautification project.”

Doing it all

Senior operator David Hauser observes, “Everybody works together at this plant. Everyone is extremely flexible, and everyone brings something to the table. And they’re encouraged to do whatever they’re good at. Paul gives us free rein in that sense.”

Plant operators monitor in-line analyzers and collect wet samples of influent/effluent a minimum of every four hours. They clean and paint equipment to minimize corrosion and perform regular maintenance, such as cleaning and calibrating analyzers and minimizing leaks to prevent flow interruptions.

“Four years ago, the utility centralized the maintenance,” says Kavanagh. “It can take a while for maintenance workers to get out here, depending on their workload, so if we see a problem, we try to get ahead of it by handling the smaller stuff ourselves.” For example, when a pinhole on the ammonia feed line required a minor repair, “We shut down the system and switched to another pump and injector so the operator could replace the half-inch polyvinyl line,” Kavanagh explains. “The system was only down for an hour.”

Operators also handle water-quality complaints or questions for the county. “We may handle anywhere from a few complaints to multiple calls a day if we have a line break,” says Kavanagh. “We attempt to walk customers through problems that are inside the home and past the point of our responsibility.”

That may include helping them place their water softener in bypass, telling them how to shut the water off if there is a leak, or answering general questions. “If we suspect it may be a problem within the distribution line, we create a service request and pass it on to the appropriate supervisor,” says Kavanagh. “Our goal is to be at the customer’s door within two hours.”

A reclaim/potable water specialist helps with the county’s reclamation plant, physically checking each reclaim station and setting operation parameters such as system pressure and tank levels. The plant operators monitor and control the water reclaim system via SCADA.

Most of the system’s 11 storage tanks are at or near the utility’s wastewater plants. “We pump the reclaim water for the entire northwest section of the county,” says Kavanagh. “This can include moving water from storage tanks in one location to storage tanks at a different location, as demand dictates, as well as directly to our customers.” The potable water specialist is also cross-trained on operations. More than 23 mgd of reclaimed water is delivered to 15,000 residential and commercial customers each day.

The plant gives tours to schools, scouts and sports groups. “Anyone who is interested can request a tour,” says Kavanagh. “We give the school kids a questionnaire at the end of the tour to see if they were listening. We also reward each correct answer with a water-related prize, which, of course, the kids are very receptive to.”

The Lake Park plant also participates in community service events such as Florida Disability Mentoring Day and a job fair with the Florida Center for Inclusive Communities.

Meet the Top Ops

Besides winning FSAWWA awards in 2009, 2010 and 2011, the Lake Park plant won the 2009 and 2011 Florida Department of Environmental Plant Operations Excellence Award from the state DEP. Perhaps the biggest honor, though, was competing in the Top Ops competition, held during the AWWA annual conference and exposition. The plant team placed second in the state in 2007 and 2009-2011 and third in 2008 and 2012. In 2010, they placed 10th in the nation.

The team started preparing for the competition in 2007. “We had very little time to prepare, as we decided to participate at the last minute to support the FSAWWA and their efforts to promote the competition,” recalls Kavanagh. With only about six weeks to prepare, the operators studied on their own time after picking the chapter and areas they wanted to cover. It was worth the effort. “Even though the competition can be stressful and fast-paced, the operators will tell you that the thrill of challenging oneself against others is a feeling that is hard to beat,” says Kavanagh.

Besides Kavanagh, who holds a Class A water license and has been with the plant for seven years, and Hauser (Class B, four years), the operations team includes:

    Plant supervisor Mark Chaffin (Class A, seven years with the county).
    Senior plant operator Harry Williams (Class A, 12 years).
    Senior plant operator Kevin Krajaulis (Class B, four years).
    Plant operators Brian Milligan (Class C, five years) and Mitch Zitch (Class C, one year).
    Operator trainees Luis Ortega (one year), Wayne Cichocki (10 years) and Ronnie McGee (four years).
    Environmental Specialist II Thomas (Toby) Ruff (10 years).
    Reclaim/potable water specialist Emmet Lee (Class C, 13 years).

Always improving

Plant upgrades over the past six years have helped ensure high-quality water, redundancy and hurricane preparedness. Besides additions to the ammonia feed system, these upgrades include:

    New 43-ton sodium chloride tank for additional salt storage.
    Complete replacement of switchgear and the motor control center with newest efficient technology and labeling of all breakers with arc- flash ratings.
    Installation of a security camera system that covers the entire site.
    Integration of all six variable-speed, high-service pumps with the generator.
    Installation of a hurricane shelter over sodium hypochlorite and ammonia tanks.
    Replacement of four sodium hypochlorite and four fluoride pumps (Grundfos).
    Installation of concrete sidewalks to all sample points for safety.
    Installation of a catwalk on top of the diesel storage tank.
    Creation of a professional weather center with integrated multi-sensor that collects weather data and relays it to plant control room display console.

The plant’s 1,330 hp diesel generator (Caterpillar) with a 20,000-gallon diesel storage tank can run the plant continuously for about 21 days. “We have a hurricane plan in effect,” says Kavanagh. “We had a Category 2 storm once. We’re prepared for a Category 4.”

Future wish list

The Lake Park plant team is always looking to the future. Goals include small items like replacing all pump room lights with energy-efficient lighting, to larger initiatives like helping operators achieve Class A certification. An upgrade to the plant’s programmable logic controller (PLC) is also planned.

Also on the wish list are achieving recognition as the safest water plant in which to work and continuing to lead the way in innovative practices to produce the best product for their customers.

Says Kavanagh, “We have designated a plant safety representative to hold safety meetings once a week and relay information to the operators. We have a safety action plan, which all operators must read and sign, saying they are aware of their responsibilities and understand our procedures in case of an accident or incident.” A safety-related walk-through every month identifies potential issues. The plant also has an emergency action plan.

Securing the funding to maintain the plant at optimal performance is Kavanagh’s greatest challenge. “Each plant is awarded a budget for general operation and maintenance,” he says. “Any funding request outside this budget is taken up the chain of command through a project request form where we state why the request is needed. We work with the equipment every day, so we try to keep ahead by requesting that outdated or aging equipment be replaced as soon as viable.”

Kavanagh isn’t worried about the future, since he knows his team will find a way to make it all work. “You know the saying: ‘If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem?’” he says. “Well, my staff members are the solution. I wouldn’t trade them for anything.”


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