Can-Do Spirit

Versatile Dale Stanley does double duty as ‘top operator’ at two of Dalton Utilities’ Georgia water treatment plants.
Can-Do Spirit

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Dale Stanley wears many hats for Dalton Utilities in northwestern Georgia. When he’s not mapping out maintenance on filters, he’s running lab tests to ensure excellent water quality. Or he’s filling in for a colleague on the night shift — whatever it takes.

Stanley, a Class 1 water operator, floats between two plants: the 13.2 mgd Mill Creek Water Treatment Plant and the V.D. Parrott Jr. Water Filtration Facility, permitted at 50.3 mgd. “If someone’s out, I fill in; that’s just how the job works,” he says in a quiet southern drawl that belies his experience and value to the utility.

Stanley, a 28-year utility veteran, won the 2011 Top Operator Award from the Georgia Association of Water Professionals (GAWP). The association said, “Top Operators represent the best drinking water professionals throughout the state.”

The award is conferred annually to a treatment plant operator for consistent and outstanding contributions to the drinking water treatment profession. Leslie Rush, vice president of water and wastewater services for Dalton Utilities, has no doubt Stanley qualifies. He cites the key role Stanley played during the Mill Creek plant’s renovation in 2007 and 2008, when it became the first wastewater treatment facility in the state to use a membrane filtration system.

“Membrane filtration was a completely new technology for us, and Dale got up to speed very quickly,” says Rush. “He also worked closely with the construction teams. Because of his experience and extensive knowledge of the plant, he was able to make sure the work was done with minimum disruption. Dale was instrumental in getting the Mill Creek plant up and running once the renovation was complete. He’s a real asset to our organization.”

A modest guy like Stanley finds such praise hard to accept. If anything, he’s grateful to Dalton Utilities, which, he says, has been good about providing him with opportunities to learn and grow.

Winding road

Like many from small-town America, Stanley didn’t see water treatment as his career of choice, but he took advantage of an opportunity. He joined Dalton Utilities in November 1984, five months after graduating from Eastside High School.

“Initially, I decided I’d rather join the grounds crew, mow the lawn and work days,” Stanley recalls with a laugh. “Then I got interested in water, saw it as something I could make a career of, and went from there. After a while, I got training for certification as a water plant operator and later as a water laboratory analyst. I never looked back.”

The variety water treatment offers captured Stanley’s interest: “Different days, different things come along. Going from one plant to the other, there’s something always happening. I never feel trapped or bored. That’s what I like about working in the water industry.”

A little finesse

At Mill Creek, Stanley starts his day by getting “numbers off the computer” that describe water flow and processing statistics. From there, he and shift supervisor Bruce Blackwell run water-quality tests. If need be, they do a leak test on the membrane filtration system (Siemens Water Technologies). Again, Stanley earns high marks for his expertise.

“Dale knows a lot about membrane filtration technology and makes sure the system functions as it should,” says Blackwell, who has worked with Stanley for more than 20 years. “Dale is a real good worker who fills in wherever we need him. He’s been a major contributor to both Mill Creek and our V.D. Parrott plant and is very deserving of the Top Operator Award.”

Always the professional, Stanley takes great pride in working with the 0.3-micron membrane filters: “The advantage to having membrane filters is that you could turn off the chemicals used in the treatment process because the water is so well-filtered. Of course, we sure haven’t tried that. The rayon-module filters we have could treat water-turbidity levels up to 40 NTU without any processing. That’s how effective they are. These membrane filters give us peace of mind in that if something bad happened, we could still provide good quality water.”

Turbidity in raw water may come from a variety of materials, including clay, silt, or mineral particles from soils or from natural organic matter created by decayed vegetation. Water from Mill Creek is pumped in and treated with a coagulant (ferric chloride and polymer). Then lime is added to adjust the pH.

Instead of adding commercially produced chlorine, the plant generates its own chlorine on site to disinfect the water. Then the water is filtered, chlorine is added again to destroy bacteria, and fluoride is introduced.

As he finishes inspecting the delicate spaghetti strands that make up the membrane filters, Stanley runs high-pressure air through them to test for leaks. If he finds any, he uses a specially made pin, which resembles a toothpick, to permanently seal off the tiny holes, then puts the filter back together and reinstalls it. He learned the techniques during training when the filters were installed.

Stanley’s efforts, and Dalton Utilities’ commitment to providing top-quality water services through continued investment in equipment and employee education, have paid off handsomely. Built in 1930, Mill Creek was voted 2011 GAWP Best Tasting Water in District 1, second in the state. In 2010, it received the GAWP Water Treatment Plant of the Year Award (for surface water plants 3.0 to 14.99 mgd); in 2006, it earned the GAWP Water Plant of the Year Award.

Next stop

Two miles away at the V.D. Parrott Water Filtration Plant, Stanley inspects the gravity sand filters used there, checks the vertical turbine pumps and performs other maintenance as needed. Unlike Mill Creek’s membrane filters, which are self-cleaning, the sand filters have to be cleaned manually. For Stanley, it’s all in a day’s work, and he finds it “always interesting.” The plant was built in 1964 along the Conasauga River with a 24 mgd capacity. It was expanded in 1969 to its current 50.3 mgd capacity. In 2010, the plant received a GAWP Drinking Water Taste Test Award.

With daily water consumption of 37.4 million gallons, Dalton Utilities serves 34,500 customers. In addition to the Conasauga River and Mill Creek, the utility gets water from Coahulla Creek, Freeman Springs and Eastside Utilities, which provides water from the Tennessee River. Dalton Utilities has enough contingency storage (2.54 billion gallons) to meet customers’ needs for a two-month period in severe drought conditions.

Slowing down

A Dalton native, Stanley has seen a marked decrease in water demand — the result of a decline in carpet making, which has defined the area for more than 100 years. Located off Highway 75 in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in northwest Georgia, Dalton is the second-largest city in northwest Georgia, after Rome.

Dalton is often referred to as the Carpet Capital of the World, and with good reason: there are more than 150 carpet plants employing more than 30,000 people in the Whitfield County area, where Dalton is the county seat. In fact, more than 90 percent of the functional carpet produced in the world today is made within a 65-mile radius of the city. Yet things have slowed down over the last few years.

“Our water flow used to be wide open because of all the carpet companies in the area,” says Stanley. “Now, with the economy being so slow, the carpet mills don’t do nearly as much business as they once did. We used to run almost maximum at the V.D. Parrott Plant — about 50 mgd. We’d max it out at Mill Creek, 13 mgd, and at Silver Springs, another little plant where we ran about 2 mgd. Today, we’re down to about half at each plant. We’re hoping it’ll pick back up.”

When it does, Stanley will be ready to do whatever it takes to keep good-quality water flowing.


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