Meeting the Goal

A Tennessee plant optimizes operations to earn four consecutive Partnership for Safe Drinking Water Director Awards.
Meeting the Goal
Team members at the Kingsport Water Filtration Plant include, front row, from left, Sam Thomason, superintendent, and Niki Ensor, water/wastewater facilities manager; second row, Wayne Case and Steven Flanary, Grade IV operators; third row, Steve Thornburg and Kirby Walker, Grade III operators, and Christy Simerly, Grade IV operator; fourth row, Timothy Gibson, Grade IV operator, and William McClintock and Dustin Hammonds, Grade III operators; back row, Mark Erwin, maintenance worker, Ronald Ha

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Determination, hard work and attention to detail have paid off for operators at the Kingsport (Tenn.) Water Treatment Plant. The plant was one of only three in the state to receive the 2012 EPA Partnership for Safe Drinking Water Director Award. Superintendent Sam Thomason is proud of her staff for the achievement.

“We started working toward this award in 2005,” she says. “My predecessors, Niki Ensor and Laura Phillips, established the program, and I picked it up two years ago. I asked my team their opinion on what needed to be done to continue our success, and they met that challenge.”

The Partnership award recognizes commitment to the highest level of water quality by optimizing plant operations. Monitoring the incoming turbidity, filters and chemistry are key to optimal performance in case of high demand or a serious rain event. The Kingsport plant team constantly monitors the filters so that no turbidity breaks through. They also backwash regularly. “In 2009, we achieved 0.07 NTU turbidity with the combined filter effluent [CFE],” says Thomason. “The cutoff is 0.1 NTU to meet the Partnership goal.

“Working toward the award makes you look at everything with a fine-toothed comb. It has made us a better plant. The Partnership goals are more stringent than EPA and state regulations, and they encourage plant operators to go above and beyond the normal to produce the best and safest water for the community.”

The plant has won other awards: 2007 Best Tasting Water, East Tennessee region, from the Tennessee Association of Utility Districts (TAUD); and the 2005 Julian R. Fleming Award for Outstanding Water Treatment Plant from the Tennessee Water and Wastewater Association (TWWA), presented to one plant in the state each year.

A long history

The utility was established in 1914 as Kingsport Waterworks Corporation, and a small conventional treatment plant was built in 1916. In 1929, a new 4 mgd water treatment plant was built that included raw water pumping with upstream screening. At that time, a 16-inch raw water transmission main was constructed up the rock cliffs and through a rock tunnel to the water treatment plant.

The plant was expanded to 8 mgd in 1947 with an improved river intake and screening system, a new sedimentation basin, additional pumping equipment and two new storage tanks. The system was expanded to 12 mgd in 1949 with a larger filter building and two more filters. These sand/gravel filters incorporated surface sweeps to aid in filter backwash. Surface sweeps or filter bed agitators were also incorporated into the plant’s existing four filters. Plant upgrades continued to a capacity of 28 mgd (daily average 15 mgd). Major equipment includes:

  • Intake traveling screens (Screening Systems International; Siemens Water Technologies)
  • Clarifier/thickener to dewater the settling basin solids and backwash water before treatment at the wastewater plant
  • Five sedimentation basins
  • 1.5-million-gallon clearwell
  • Three high-service pumps (Flygt - a Xylem Brand, Fairbanks Nijhuis)
  • 12 filters
  • 22 storage tanks
  • Chlorine storage and feed facility
  • SCADA system (National Instruments)

From the intake piping, the raw water goes through a 42-inch Venturi flowmeter (Westfall Manufacturing), flash mix (Philadelphia Mixing Solutions), aluminum chloride addition, coagulant/polymer addition and prechlorination. Water is then sent to a distribution box to each of five basins.

Meeting challenges

Meeting the Partnership goals is a constant challenge, “but the potential benefits are great,” says Thomason. “Utilities review their plant operation using the structured approach provided in the Partnership guidance manual to identify areas that limit improved performance. The plant then develops a site-specific plan to address these areas and improve water quality.”

For the Director Award, the plant provided raw and finished turbidity data, a copy of the plant’s standard operating procedures (SOPs) and a self-assessment report that listed plant improvements and the results. The report was reviewed by a team of utility peers who are members of the Performance Evaluation Assessment Committee (PEAC). They determine whether the report reflects a “good faith effort by the utility toward treatment plant optimization.” If so, the PEAC recommends that the plant receive the Director Award for completing Phase III.

The plant staff has dealt with heavy rains and power outages. “In June 2013, we got 5 inches of rain in three hours, and our highest raw turbidity peaked at 75 NTU,” says Thomason. “The operators use the live feed from our security cameras to stay ahead of and prepare for the rise in raw turbidity, and adjust the chemical feed accordingly.”

The team installed three Cummins generators in April 2013 for the major pump stations. The generators activate on their own during a power failure, and the SCADA system lets operators know when the plant has switched to generator power.

In July 2012, a 30-inch line break in the plant’s yard flooded the parking lot. A quick reaction from the staff prevented further damage. “There was 14,000 gpm of water going out, so the operators shut down the plant to keep the tanks from going dry,” recalls Thomason. “This was a difficult repair and a lengthy process, but our maintenance crew was able to get us back online.”

Plant upgrades have made the operators’ lives easier. The SCADA system with Allen-Bradley Lookout software (Rockwell Automation) was added in 2000, automating the backwash sequence with individual settings for each filter. Each filter has its own turbidimeter, and operators constantly monitor the surface wash sequence at the end of the backwash. The filter is placed back online only when it meets its individual NTU requirement.

Adding filters has helped meet demand. “We still have the four original sand filters from 1929, but they have been rebuilt,” says Thomason. The utility has also added 24 hours of storage capacity and fire protection capacity.

Experienced team

Thirteen staff members with more than 200 years of collective experience run the Kingsport plant. Thomason reports to water/wastewater facilities manager Niki Ensor and holds Grade IV water treatment (WT4) and Grade II water distribution (DS2) licenses. Her team includes:

  • Water Treatment Grade IV plant operators Wayne Case (22 years at the plant), Steven Flanary (19 years), Timothy Gibson (16 years) and Christy Simerly (two years).
  • Water Treatment Grade III plant operators Dustin Hammonds (seven years), William McClintock (19 years), Steven Thornburg (21 years) and Kirby Walker (one year).
  • Billy Barrett, equipment operator (five years).
  • Ronald Haynes, lab technician (WT4, 23 years).
  • Mark Erwin, maintenance worker (31 years).

Many of the operators also hold DS2 licenses. The city requires all plant operators to obtain Grade IV certification within six years of employment.

Four teams of shift operators rotate so that nights and weekends are covered. “Some members of the team came from other city departments,” says Thomason. “Wayne became an operator after working as a lift station worker, and Dustin moved from distribution to operations. They are all very experienced, and I have 100 percent confidence in them.”

Equipment operator Barrett drives the truck that transports solids from the clarifiers to the wastewater treatment plant. He helps with basin cleanings, pressure washing and pumphouse painting, and also assists at the wastewater plant.

Sticking to procedures

The water plant maintains a detailed list of SOPs, which operators follow closely. It covers everything from operator duties and laboratory analysis to equipment operation and chemical addition. It even covers what to do in a power outage. “We prepared the SOPs for the Partnership program and are constantly revising and updating them as we make improvements and upgrades, and as issues arise,” says Thomason. “We try to make the SOPs as detailed as possible.”

Operators are also responsible for grounds work, painting and cleaning, minor maintenance, turbidimeter calibration and assisting with laboratory testing. They take continuing education classes, including filter optimization.

“TAUD sends out a schedule of classes for the year, and they come around to our area,” Thomason says. “The city pays for our operators to take classes to maintain their CEUs. They also pay for training classes so the Grade III operators can prepare to take their Grade IV or DS2 exam,” says Thomason. “I have an outstanding team. They care, and they’re proud of the service they provide to customers. When I started, they called me ma’am, but now they treat me like a little sister, which is fine with me. We’re like family here.”

Planning for the future

The operators were pleased when they won the 2007 TAUD Region 1 Best Tasting Water award, beating 15 utilities in the region. “Maybe we’ll win again this year,” says Thomason. “There is a panel of five judges, and nobody knows whose water they’re drinking. We are required by the state to maintain a chlorine residual in the system, but it doesn’t affect the taste of the water.”

The plant hopes to achieve the Phase III award again next year and will then start preparing to meet Phase IV. “As we maintain the turbidity requirements for the Partnership, we can’t have any violations if we’re going to achieve the Phase III award next year,” Thomason says. “If we do this, we will receive the Director Award for plants that have maintained Phase III status for five years, have demonstrated improved performance and have made progress toward optimized plant operation.”

The plant’s greatest challenge will be staying on top of rules and regulations. “The Revised Total Coliform Rule, which will be implemented in 2016, is one example,” says Thomason. “I’m trying to learn all I can to make sure we can meet the new requirement.”

In May 2011, Hazen and Sawyer developed a master plan that covers the next 30 years for both the plant and distribution system. The plant has hired engineering firm CDM Smith to complete design by 2014 on a new raw water intake system. “The raw water lines have been exposed to the elements since 1929,” says Thomason. “A new tunnel will replace the exposed lines, and new intake pumps will be installed behind the plant.

“The water treatment plant building is a historical landmark, and it would make a good continuing education training center for our operators and the utilities surrounding our area. Maybe we can showcase some of our old equipment that’s no longer in use.”


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