Players' Coach

Scott Bailey keeps the vintage Monticello Water Plant in top form thanks to experience, skills and a hands-on management style.
Players' Coach
Scott Bailey, with water operators Tom Bates, left, and Matt Utley.

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It takes a special touch — and a strong leader — to keep a 120-year-old water plant ticking. That’s what Scott Bailey has been bringing for more than 25 years.

Now plant supervisor for the Monticello (Ill.) Water Plant, Bailey started as a laborer with the city Public Works Department in 1987. He has forged a career built on learning all he can about the water business, developing his expertise and motivating the operators who work for him.

Indeed, Bailey has proved himself a savvy manager and an innovator at the 1 mgd facility, with 2,460 service connections in this city of 5,300, an hour east of Springfield between Champaign and Decatur. After learning that the plant supervisor would retire in five years, Bailey kept his eyes on the prize. He took courses at two community colleges, eventually earning an associate degree and a certificate in management. He also attended AWWA seminars.

In three years, he earned his Class A Surface Water license, and he became water supervisor in 1996. “When I first started here, I felt like everybody else: you just turn on your tap and the water is there,” Bailey says with a smile. “The fact is, you learn something new every day, and I love that part of the job.”

Seeking advancement

After high school in Monticello, Bailey went to Lincoln Land Community College in Springfield for the water classes he needed to get his license. Then he attended Parkland Community College in Champaign.

Bailey decided to shoot for a degree, which he felt would make him more valuable. “Originally, my associate degree was to have been in construction technology, but I needed a few classes during the day, which I couldn’t take because I was working, so I ended up changing my major and getting a degree in general studies,” he says. “I also took a set of management courses at Parkland and earned a certificate. That has been a big help in my supervisory duties.”

Bailey’s determination paid off at the water plant, built in 1892. He shows pictures from the early 1900s and points out that until a major renovation in 1935, the facility’s water softeners were steam-powered. The oldest well, still in use, was built in 1915. Other renovations took place in 1958 and 1976. Nonetheless, “Our water meets all federal and state standards; we haven’t had a violation in years and years.”

Challenges and rewards

Bailey, and a pair of operators, maintain two US Filter pressure filters (Siemens) for iron and arsenic removal and four ion-exchange water softeners (Siemens). The plant averages 500,000 to 600,000 gpd. Treated water goes into a 750,000-gallon clearwell. The city also has two water towers that hold a combined 650,000 gallons.

“A typical day at the plant starts with taking readings,” Bailey says. “We have a SCADA system where we get readings on our pumps and meters. We check the plant inside and out, then come back and do our testing at the lab. We also do maintenance inside the plant and keep the infrastructure in shape.”

His biggest challenge came in 2006 when the U.S. EPA reduced the arsenic limit in drinking water from 50 parts per billion to 10. From the time he heard talk about the new regulations, he began doing pilot studies, experimenting with treatments and chemical combinations that finally yielded the 10 ppb level. But Bailey wanted to do even better.

“We used a lot of chemicals, and I was able to eliminate some of them through trial and error,” he says. “We had a chemical engineer who wanted to treat the water with chemicals, so we started out using copper sulfate, hydrogen peroxide, ferrous chloride, chlorine bleach and a SUPERFLOC A-1894RS polymer (Kemira).

“We reached 10 ppb, so I started changing the formula and eliminating one chemical at a time, doing some testing and sending samples into the lab. Just by accident we upped the polymer until we finally got the arsenic level to 6 ppb. What really worked best was using bleach at the well and then adding the polymer right before the water went to the filters.”

Beyond the positive health impact, there was an economic benefit to the arsenic removal, according to Floyd Allsop, city manager and Bailey’s boss for 18 years. Allsop feared that the new regulations and the accompanying increase in chemicals would force the city to raise water rates in a tough economic climate.

“Scott worked with engineers and others, experimented, tested and came up with a relatively low-cost way to reduce the amount of chemicals we use and still cut arsenic levels to below EPA standards,” Allsop says. “As a result, we’ve been able to hold rates steady. In fact, we haven’t had a rate increase in more than five years, and that’s a real credit to Scott and his team.”

Earning honors

Such devotion drew notice in 2012, when Bailey was named Operator of the Year by the Illinois Potable Water Supply Operators Association (IPWSOA). His quarter-century of service includes being a member of the Iowa AWWA section and serving on its Small System Committee, being a member of the Illinois Rural Water Association, and serving on the City of Monticello’s Safety Committee.

Bailey joined three finalists on stage at last September’s IPWSOA annual conference in Springfield. “Then I looked around, saw I was the only one left, and thought ‘Oh, that’s me,’” he says. He earned the award in the Groundwater Division after a rigorous selection process that included extensive review of plant performance, interviews and a plant tour by IPWSOA committee members. In typical fashion, Bailey credited just about everybody but himself: his two Class A operators, Tom Bates and Matt Utley; and the city Public Works employees.

Allsop observes, “With Scott as water supervisor, I don’t have to worry about ensuring that our water meets state and federal standards. He takes quality water personally, so I know that whether he’s at the plant or on vacation, he’s monitoring it and keeping in close contact with the other operators. It’s a good feeling to be able to trust someone to do the right thing.”

The Water Department has received a Fluoride Award from the state Department of Public Health for seven consecutive years for maintaining the proper fluoride levels all 12 months. Again, Allsop credits Bailey and his team.

“This is an older facility, which Scott has been able to maintain and upgrade when the need arises,” he says. “Scott and I have a budget for maintaining the plant and the infrastructure. This includes replacing undersized or old water mains or changing out three or four fire hydrants every year. That can be expensive, since we often have to replace fittings and valves. We’re able to do this cost-effectively because of Scott’s knowledge and experience. He has lots of good ideas, and he isn’t afraid to try new and innovative approaches and work with others.”

Those who work for Bailey share Allsop’s assessment. Bates, a 17-year veteran, says, “If Scott were a coach, he’d be a players’ coach. He’s been there and done that, so you have confidence he knows what he’s talking about. Scott will always say, ‘Can you do this?’ rather than ‘Go do it.’ That’s his style. He’d never ask us to do anything he wouldn’t do. When we have a leak or main break, he’ll go down in the hole and work with us to fix it. He’s 100 percent hands-on, which is great in a supervisor.”

Utley, who has been at the Monticello plant for five years, considers Bailey “a mentor and father figure. When I started here, I had my Class D [distribution] license, and Scott encouraged me to better myself and get my Class A license. I’ve really enjoyed working for him. He knows so much about water and the plant and what it takes to be a good operator.”

Toni Sommers, a water department billing clerk, adds her two cents: “Scott’s a great guy to know and work with. He’s one of a kind — very cooperative and always willing to help. He gives tours for high school kids, and they really enjoy hearing him talk about the water plant.”

Job that never ends

While grateful for the praise, Bailey remains focused on his work, which includes a program to replace three or four blocks of water main per year. Last year, he and the Public Works staff put in a mile of new water main. He also considers which hydrants to replace, taking that seriously because hydrant prices have gone from $900 to more than $2,000 in the last several years.

Bailey also serves as water operator at three small water treatment plants about 10 miles from Monticello: the Village of Cisco (serving 300), the Village of Deland (300), and White Heath Water Works (600) residents. He does the work on Saturdays, making sure the plants are running the way they should.

Bailey insists it’s all part of the job. “People often take water for granted,” he says. “It’s nice when we go on a job and someone says, ‘That’s a lot of work; thanks for getting our water back.’ I’m proud to be part of the plant’s success.”


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