Weathering the Storm

A rural Kentucky plant meets weather, staffing and quality challenges on the way to winning its AWWA section’s Award of Excellence for 2012.
Weathering the Storm
Jeff Fultz, plant manager, operates the drain valve on the flocculation basin (AMWELL).

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When the Cave Run Regional Water Treatment Plant won the 2012 Water Treatment Plant Award of Excellence from the AWWA Kentucky/Tennessee Section, its six operators were proud.

“We don’t even know who nominated us, but the staff was so pleased, they showed their family and friends the newspaper article about it,” says Jeff Fultz, general manager and plant operator for the facility in Wellington, Ky.

It was the plant’s first AWWA award, but not its first public recognition. The facility won the 2011 Civic Organization of the Year Award from the Frenchburg/Menifee County Chamber of Commerce for providing a vital service to its communities. It also won a 2007 Award for Outstanding Operations from the Kentucky Water & Wastewater Operators Association (KWWOA).

It’s no surprise that the plant has won awards; its team has met some tough challenges. A major flood in 2011 tested the operators as they struggled to keep the plant running. Runoff in the fall rainy season elevates iron and manganese levels, requiring careful monitoring and chemistry changes. Frequent power outages from storms require staff members to operate valves and pumps manually over a territory that spans a 30-mile radius. The success stems from experience and dedication. “Our operators are the best,” says Fultz. “If a water main or pump breaks in the middle of the night, they show up every time.”

Rural plant

Located in scenic Menifee County, the plant is named for Cave Run Lake, which supplies its source water. The plant is governed by the Cave Run Water Commission (CRWC), formed in 2002 and a wholesale supplier to Frenchburg Water & Sewer, the City of Jeffersonville Water System, and the Morgan County Water District. The system includes a raw water pumping station; the water treatment plant; two above-ground storage tanks; 30 miles of 8-, 12- and 14- inch pipe; and seven master meter and valve control stations.

Completed in 2005, the $13 million, 2 mgd water treatment plant now operates at 65 percent capacity. CRWC contracted with Fultz to operate the plant, which supplies water to about 17,000 people in Menifee, Montgomery and Morgan counties.

After intake screening, the lake water enters a rapid-mix system, where aluminum-based coagulant (Thermofloc 4153 from Thermodyne Engineering) is added along with lime for pH adjustment and sodium permanganate for iron and manganese removal and taste and odor control. The water then enters a flocculation basin (flocculators by AMWELL), followed by a sedimentation basin with tube settlers, a chlorine contact basin, and sand filters (Leopold – a Xylem Brand). The filters are backwashed with clean water from the clearwell, and the backwash wastewater drains to settling lagoons.

The relatively clear, settled water from the lagoons is taken off the top and flows back into Cave Run Lake via Cold Cave Creek. “There is a pipe that stays above the sludge level after settling,” says Fultz. “We open a valve so the water can gravity-feed into the creek.” Clarified water from the sand filters is chlorinated, fluoridated and sent to a 300,000-gallon clearwell. From there, pumps (American-Marsh) deliver it to a 300,000-gallon elevated storage tank and a 500,000-gallon in-ground storage tank through a series of transmission mains. It is then metered and distributed to customers.

Doing it all

With 20 years in the business, eight at CRWC, Fultz knows the challenges of delivering consistent-quality drinking water. He holds Kentucky Class IV water treatment and Class III water distribution certifications. “My uncle operated a 500-customer water district near Maysville,” he says. “I started helping him with meter readings when I was around seven. When I was 12, I learned to operate a backhoe and other equipment.”

Fultz helped his uncle on the weekends and after school, and when he turned 15, he landed a part-time paid position with the district. After high school, he went to work full time for the City of Flemingsburg utilities department and received his first certification.

After moving to the new Cave Run plant in August 2005, he hired three operators, two with experience in water and the other a trainee.

Today, his team has almost 20 collective years of experience, and it shows. “The operators can do it all, including laboratory work, maintenance, plant upkeep, and monitoring and controlling tank levels and chemicals,” Fultz says. They run laboratory tests every few hours for chlorine, pH, alkalinity, hardness, iron, manganese, turbidity and chloride. They also perform all maintenance except for intake pump and water main break repairs, which are contracted out.

“They learned how to perform general maintenance on the job, including repairing the chemical feed equipment and pumps,” says Fultz. “I am fortunate to have people who are mechanically inclined.” An on-call operator is notified by way of the SCADA system if there is a problem at the plant during off hours.

The operator ranks include George Wells (Class IV water treatment license, 7 years with CRWC), Kevin Pelfrey (Class III, 2 years), Larry Workman (Class IA-D, 1.5 years), Bille Jo Fultz (2 years), and Travis McKinney (Class II water distribution, 2 years). Pelfrey is also a full-time operator for the Beech Fork Water Commission, and McKinney is also manager for the City of Jeffersonville Water System. “They work for Cave Run when needed, usually 15-24 hours a week,” says Fultz.

The operators keep up their certification by attending courses through the Kentucky Rural Water Association, the KWWOA, or the state Division of Water.

Solving problems

Resourcefulness is a hallmark of the Cave Run team. In the past, there were problems with coagulant delivery: the minimum delivery was 4,500 gallons, and the plant only had a 1,000-gallon tank, which meant deliveries had to be split with other area plants. In 2007, Fultz came up with a solution. On a visit to another plant, he noticed some tanks off to the side. “The plant didn’t need these tanks anymore, so I asked if I could have them,” he recalls. “I got two 3,000-gallon tanks for free, and we installed them and the entire feed system in-house. The only cost to us was for the pipe fittings.”

By accepting 4,500 gallons at a time, the plant lowered the cost of coagulant from 42 cents to 26 cents per pound and saved over $10,000 in freight charges the first year.

The fall rainy season can affect source water quality. “Our main problem is manganese,” says Fultz. “When levels are high, we increase the amount of sodium permanganate we feed to oxidize the manganese and allow it to settle and be filtered out of the water. That works very well.”

The plant’s main operating challenge is monitoring and controlling the distribution system, especially during a power outage. “We use radio telemetry to monitor and control eight water towers and 14 other remote sites,” says Fultz.

During power outages, they have to operate the valve stations manually. “I send an operator into the field to take a pressure gauge reading at each tank so he can tell how much water is in it,” says Fultz. “If it’s low, he will manually open the corresponding valve, and if it’s full, he will manually close the valve. We work a lot of overtime during power outages.”

Toughest storm

The biggest test the plant faced was a flood in April 2011, when Cave Run Lake overflowed its banks during heavy rain. “The first problem happened when the valve pit flooded from seepage and shorted out the solenoids at our source water intake,” says Fultz. “We installed a 3-inch electric water pump to dewater the valve and covered the solenoids with silicone to prevent water damage and keep the valves working.”

Fultz and his crew worked around the clock to seal all the places where water was entering, and they kept checking the vault to make sure water didn’t rise above it. Fearing a possible plant shutdown if the flooding should get worse, Fultz and other utility leaders gave priority to producing water and filling all the tanks in their systems. They also called utilities in neighboring counties to arrange for backup supplies if needed.

“As it turned out, the rain continued and the lake rose another four inches where the vault is, but the pump kept running and the systems stayed full,” Fultz says. After eight days, however, the lake level was 14 inches over the vault. The sump pump failed, the limit switches shorted out, and the valves controlling water flow to the plant closed.

Fultz saved the day. “I drove to the edge of the lake, about 100 feet from the intake structure,” he recalls. “There were two hunters in a canoe by the water’s edge, and I asked them to take me over to the intake. I extended some tubing to open the control valves and reset the breaker so the sump pump could operate again. The water level stayed over our control valves at the intake for 58 days. It was a trying time, but my team and staff members from other agencies came through and kept the water flowing.”

Future challenges

While the team has met many challenges, more lie ahead. Getting and keeping qualified operators has become a critical priority for the Cave Run facility. “It’s only getting worse because the average age of a certified operator in Kentucky is around 58,” Fultz says.

“Everyone seems to be retiring at the same time, and there is a huge demand for operators. Smaller plants need to raise the pay to compete with the larger ones that generally have much better benefits. Our plant’s rural location doesn’t help. Most young people want to live and work somewhere that has lots of stores, restaurants and movie theaters. We just don’t have that. We do try to keep wages competitive so we can keep the staff we have.” In the future, Fultz plans to hire trainees and train them himself.

To help raise awareness about these and other issues, the Cave Run team took part in an all-day event to show the public what they do. The Jeffersonville Water System hosted an educational field day last Oct. 6. “We advertised the event, invited the public, and had a question-and-answer session on water treatment,” says Fultz. “It was a big success.”

One challenge Fultz won’t have to face is the need to expand. “There is no population growth and we’re running at 65 percent capacity, so we’re set for now,” he says. “The only population spike is from seasonal tourism in the summer, when people visit the lake and national forest.”

With a dedicated team like Fultz and his operators, residents and visitors alike can be sure of quality water when they turn on the tap. “This job not only requires a wide variety of skills, but dedication and determination,” Fultz says. “When we have problems, we have to respond, whether we are in the middle of dinner with the family, at a picnic or out of town. No one goes home until everything is fixed.

“Everyone understands that this is a great responsibility. We are proud of what we do, and we are all lucky to have understanding and supportive families.”


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