Riding the Circuit

Rick Garloff operates nine small water treatment plants for Tidewater Utilities, but among his biggest accomplishments is work on the company SCADA system.
Riding the Circuit
Rick Garloff, shown at the Paynter’s Mill pump station, makes daily visits to the nine small water treatment plants in his charge.

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You want details taken care of, call Rick Garloff. Now an operator with Tidewater Utilities in the area of Rehoboth Beach, Del., Garloff was once an expert at fixing F-18 fighter planes in the Navy. A few years ago, he ironed out the new SCADA system his company was installing.  And he knows every back road, alleyway, parking lot and driveway in Rehoboth County as he wends his way through traffic jams to monitor the water treatment plants assigned to him.

“I visit each plant on a daily basis,” he says. “In the summer, the beach traffic is so congested I have to figure out different ways to get to all the plants. Trouble is, some of the repeat tourists are discovering the shortcuts, too.”

Garloff is responsible for nine small facilities that draw water from wells and then inject chlorine and caustic before feeding the finished water into the distribution system. The distribution system, managed by another division of Tidewater Utilities, includes two new above-ground storage tanks (750,000 and 300,000 gallons); a third is on the way.

Garloff’s 30 square miles of geography includes about 176,000 customers, many along the Delaware beach. Demand for water spikes in the summer. “Summertime can be a bear,” he says. Some of that is because of lawn irrigation systems at summer homes, most of which kick on automatically at about 4 a.m. Weekends can also put pressure on the system.

“Normally, our demand is up tenfold in summer over winter,” Garloff says. “In summer, we’re trying to put as much water into the system as we can. We can get slammed on weekends. In winter, it’s more about just maintaining the water plants. The new above-ground tanks will help. We don’t like to have water sitting in the distribution system too long.”

Summer peaks

The raw water wells range from 4 to 16 inches in diameter and have screen depths of 70 to 100 feet. The average well pumps 230 to 250 gpm. The water entering each treatment facility is chlorinated by PULSAtron chlorine pumps from Pulsafeeder; caustic soda is injected to adjust pH, and the finished water passes to hydro-tanks (Highland Tank) with capacities from 1,000 to 5,000 gallons.

Air pressure is maintained above the water level in each tank to provide the pressure needed to feed the water into the distribution system. A few Tidewater treatment facilities also use phosphate to control iron. The plants all use chlorimeters (Hach) for lab testing; Chessell recorders (Invensys) log operating data, and alarms are relayed via Sensaphone dialers. Kohler generators provide backup power.

About 70 percent of Garloff’s customers are residents, many living in new real estate developments or in trailer parks. The remaining 30 percent are businesses. “In summer, we can produce about 20 million gallons of finished water a week among the nine plants,” Garloff reports. In winter, that drops to about 2 million gallons, although the wintertime population has grown in the 11 years since Garloff joined Tidewater.

A typical day finds Garloff leaving his home around 7:30 a.m. and driving his Chevy 1500 pickup to his first plant, about seven miles away. “I sample the water, making sure we have no issues, no chlorine or caustic leaks, and ensuring we have the proper amount of air pressure in the hydro-tanks,” he says. The tank volumes are maintained at a water-to-air ratio of about five to three. Garloff monitors the levels through a sight glass on the tank tops. Then it’s on to the next plant, and so on. He logs 35 to 40 miles per day.

Once a week, all of the Tidewater operators gather for a production meeting to compare notes. Tidewater manages three zones in Delaware, each with a number of treatment facilities and operators. “Everybody operates independently, but at our meetings we have a chance to review any issues and gather input from the operators; there are eight of us,” Garloff says.

Nitrate sampling is a new task on the horizon. “Delaware is one of the nation’s biggest poultry producing areas,” Garloff says. “We are starting to monitor nitrates at well houses and at hydrants about twice a week.

In the beginning, Garloff’s duties included fixing mainline leaks and water meters. Since then, the company’s distribution unit has taken responsibility for infrastructure downstream of the treatment facilities. A maintenance crew takes care of the buildings.

Career builder

Garloff started with Tidewater in 2002, and this is the longest tenured position he has held in his working career. “I’m kind of a jack-of-all-trades, and it seems like I changed jobs every five years,” he says. “My wife used to ask me after five years what I was going to do next.”

After serving in the Navy, he got into construction, using his skills in carpentry and mechanics. “But I couldn’t be out banging nails the rest of my life,” he says. So he put in a few years in the plumbing industry, joining a large plumbing and fixtures supply house. “Then a good friend came in one day and told me about openings at Tidewater,” he recalls. “It had been about five years, my attention span was running out, and it sounded like a good opportunity.”

Garloff started out as an operator and went back to school part-time at Delaware Technical Community College in Dover to get his water treatment operator’s license. “Tidewater gave me the opportunity to work while I went back to school,” he says. “I now have endorsements in everything you can get except fluoride. I also have my Level 1 wastewater license, and I am working toward Level II wastewater.

“I’m glad I made the move; glad I’m in this industry. Everybody needs water. I get satisfaction in knowing that I provide clear, pleasant drinking water to our customers. Every day is different. It’s a challenge. You never know what you’re going to come upon when you walk into the plant.

“If I had stayed with my old job, I might have lost it during the recession. Everything happens for a reason.”

SCADA excellence

In 2011, Garloff was selected as the state’s Water Operator of the Year by Delaware Technical Community College. His colleague Mike Fust won that award in 2010, and over the years nine Tidewater employees have been so honored.

The Operator of the Year Awards highlight the role of water and wastewater operators in protecting the environment. Award winners are chosen for technical excellence and exemplary work ethic, contributing to high water quality in Delaware. A highlight of Garloff’s award commendation was his work supervising the implementation of a new SCADA system (Schneider Electric, Magelis HMI displays) in the Rehoboth district.

Garloff was involved in every step of the process, from pre-construction meetings to establishing plant parameters to working with the engineering teams communicating between the independent water plants. He also coordinated equipment placement at each pumphouse and worked directly with the programming team to make sure the control sequences and timers at all plants were functioning smoothly between periods of low to high water demand.

But he believes his biggest contribution was making sure the new technology interfaced successfully with the plant operators. “I became familiar with the system by shadowing the supplier’s technician as he installed the system,” Garloff recalls.

“I oversaw the human-machine interface and made sure the features included things that actually helped the operators. I had to decide whether to add or omit things operators needed to see or didn’t need to see. A lot of it was how the screens were set up. Some of the data the system was collecting was totally irrelevant to the operators.”

Garloff says the new SCADA system is relatively simple and does not override the need to visit the plants daily. “It doesn’t control valves, but it’s very useful in collecting data on a real-time basis and keeping a record for the future,” he says. “It handles all the telemetry from the plants to the overhead tanks to the home office. It has enabled us to fine-tune the system to adapt to changing demands.”

The SCADA system has also proved helpful in monitoring chlorine, pH, and pressure, especially in the hydro-tanks at the various plants. “Now we can run the system based on air pressure, or the height of the water level in the tank,” Garloff says. “It gives us complete control. In the old days, you’d adjust the nut and hope you ended up at the right pressure.”

More demands

In the end, Garloff’s daily efforts are not just about making water treatment easier or more efficient; they’re about assuring a reliable supply of clean water for customers in a changing environment. “There’s a T-shirt out there that says ‘Slower, Lower Delaware,’ Garloff observes. “We used to joke that you couldn’t walk across Route 1 [the main north-south highway through Garloff’s territory] in summer, but you could walk 30 miles up the center line in winter.”

That characterization is beginning to change as more people come to the beach in all seasons and put more and more demands on the water system Garloff and his company care for. Still, the tourist season is the most hectic.

As Garloff makes his way from water plant to water plant, the drivers clogging the intersections probably have no idea who he is. If they realized that the shower they’ll enjoy at the end of the day is due to Garloff and his company, they might give him a bit more space on the highway.


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