Clean and Pure

Immaculate conditions inside the Jackie C. Hays water plant foretell the dedication of the operating staff and the high-quality water they produce.
Clean and Pure
Each person at the plant is equipped with a fully encapsulated chemical entry suit with a full-face shield and self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA).

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Mike Patton compares the customers’ perception of his water treatment plant to that of a patient entering a hospital.

“You wouldn’t feel right going to a hospital that wasn’t sanitized and spotless, and that’s the way we want our customers to feel when they visit the water treatment plant,” he says. “We go the extra mile to make sure it’s clean and painted. That’s the impression we want to give.”

Team members don’t even tolerate a spider web or two: “We want our customers to feel good about being here. This is where their water’s coming from.”

Patton is manager of the Jackie C. Hays Water Treatment Plant, which serves the western half (most populous) of Tennessee’s Wilson County, just east of Nashville. With a staff of 12, he manages the 16 mgd treatment facility, which draws raw water from Old Hickory Lake and the Cumberland River and delivers it to 19,000 customers through a 440-mile distribution system.

The plant’s owner, West Wilson Utility District, recently won top operating performance awards from the Kentucky-Tennessee AWWA section. The Hays plant received the 2012 Outstanding Plant Operation Award, the only plant in the large plant category (greater than 10 mgd) to do so. The utility also received the 2012 Distribution System Operations Award of Excellence in the category for 10,000 to 33,000 service connections.

“In addition to cleanliness, we focus on water quality,” Patton says. “It’s not just meeting the numbers from the state or EPA. We try to get way under. We’re blessed with a great compliance record.” Patton also appreciates the support he gets from Freddie Weston, district general manager: “He’s been real helpful. He enables me to do what I need to do to keep our facility running, especially replacing equipment when we need to.”

Continuous duty

For the treatment process, raw water is pumped from the lake to the plant’s intake box. Hydrogen peroxide is added as an oxidizer before the water passes to a flash mix step, where a coagulant is added. Out of the flash mix tank, the water enters a three-stage flocculation basin, each stage containing three separate flocculation cells. In summer when the Tennessee weather gets hot, activated carbon is added in the second cells to control taste and odor.

After sedimentation, the water passes through a multi-media filter consisting of anthracite and sand on a block-type underdrain (Leopold, a Xylem brand). “We pre-chlorinate ahead of the filters to kill any hydrogen peroxide residual,” explains Patton. The filtered water passes into a mixing chamber where orthophosphate, fluoride, caustic soda (when needed for pH adjustment) and post-chlorine are added.

The water then goes to a series of clearwells for the required contact time before the finished water is released into the distribution system. American Development Corp. (ADC) supplies the fluoride and orthophosphate; Brenntag provides the other chemicals.

Patton and his team operate the plant around the clock, using four two-operator shifts. The team includes, Larry Engles, chief operator; Tim Osburne, Joel Bishop, Glenn Baggott, Toby Ross, Taylor Lyttle, Troy Booker, John Rodman, Steve Bishop and Drew Clark, operators; Roger Tune and Billy Woloszyn, maintenance technicians; and Tom Bowman, maintenance staffer. A SCADA system helps monitor and control plant processes.

Clear objectives

They’re not kidding about cleanliness here. Bowman is responsible for cleaning and painting, full time, eight hours a day. “We may not have the latest technology like some other plants, but we take care of what we have,” Patton says. “We make sure we look the best, 100 percent. We keep the pipe gallery clean, the lines color-coded, the chemical room clean. Windows, floors, polishing, everybody helps out. In a nutshell, cleanliness is our philosophy.”

If a pump goes down, the staff replaces or repairs it and it gets re-painted immediately. “It looks brand new after we’re done,” Patton says. But customer service goes beyond spit and polish at the Hays plant. Patton and his staff are vigilant about responding to customer concerns.

“We go out and test water for our customers if they have a complaint or concern,” Patton says. “It might be the customer’s problem, but we never assume that; we make sure. It may be something in the plumbing, but we try to go above and beyond to please the customer.” Patton always sends two people out on a customer call.

“Tim Osburne is in charge of all samples anywhere in the distribution system. We send him and Larry Engles out to handle complaints. We go out and try to take care of every customer issue; we do everything we can to help. I don’t know if we can always find the answer, but every customer knows we’re not hiding anything. Good service — it’s not only for the customer’s sake, but ours as well.”

Quality first

Ultimately, Patton’s emphasis on a clean plant and good customer service is driven by a concern for water quality; it’s what they’re all about.   “It’s not really about pleasing the state regulators; it’s about providing the best water to the customer that we can,” he says. “We go way outside the box to maintain our water quality.”

Crews run jar tests every day and flush the distribution system religiously. The team is very conservative with chlorine, adding no more than is required and thereby keeping disinfection byproducts to a minimum. “We’re also constantly trending our turbidity levels,” Patton says.

A major facet in the Hays plant’s program to turn out pristine water is equipment reliability and preparedness. Here, too, the staff errs on the careful side. “We have redundant equipment, and we keep a lot of spares on the shelf,” says Patton. “If something goes bad, we don’t have to wait two or three days, or even for overnight shipment. We switch to our backup system and take the other one down and fix it, or ship it to the manufacturer for repair. Our vendors have been very good to us in those situations.”

That is especially true of the plant’s battery of Hach turbidimeters. “To me, other than pumps and chemical feed systems, the most important items we have at the plant are our turbidimeters,” says Patton. A key goal is to meet or beat turbidity limits and turn out clear water, and the redundancy “keeps us ahead of the game,” in Patton’s words.

“It’s important that we not get stuck in a bad situation, especially during our peak season, which is June, July and August,” he adds. “We don’t want to have to replace anything during peak demand season. We need to be ready to go and address potential interruptions ahead of time.”

In addition to adequate and available equipment, Patton cites operator training as a priority. “Our goal is to have all operators licensed,” he says. “We send all our operators out to get certification. It takes three years for a brand-new employee, so we do everything in our power to help — classes, books, whatever it takes. We want to have at least one Class 4 operator at the plant on every shift. When we have everyone certified, it’s just a lot easier on us.”

Enough rainfall

The recent drought that has troubled various parts of the Midwest and South hasn’t affected the West Wilson Utility District much. “We’re blessed with a plentiful supply of water here,” says Patton. “The problem with some plants in our area is not being able to meet demand during the peak summer season.”

In those cases, the Hays plant has actually helped out other utilities. “We have three other emergency connections we can supply,” says Patton. “We’re adding four new filters [making a total of 12] in the next year or so. That will ensure that we can provide enough water during peak demand time. We’ll also be able to take a filter down for maintenance without reducing supply, and our older filters won’t have to work as hard. We don’t want to tell our customers their water plant can’t handle the local demand.”

In the end, customer satisfaction is paramount. “We’ve had some cases where people have come by our customers’ houses trying to sell water filtration systems,” Patton says. “A person will call me and ask about it, and I’ll tell him we’ll come out and take a sample of his tap water and run it here at the plant, then let him make the determination. That’s how confident I am in the quality of the water we produce here.

“I want our customers to know that no matter where they are, when they turn on the tap, they get the best possible quality water. I know we’ve done all we could. My whole family drinks that water, and I believe it’s the best for our kids and grandkids.”


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