Everything In Place

An award-winning Georgia water plant succeeds with top-notch training, motivated operators and a proactive approach.
Everything In Place
Gary McCoy, director of water treatment.

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Operators at the Frank C. Amerson Jr. Water Treatment Plant have found that being proactive reaps rewards. So does providing valuable input that can improve plant operations.

“We have five committees at the plant, including an awards committee, and each operator takes part in one of these,” says Gary McCoy, director of water treatment for the Macon (Ga.) Water Authority. “The operators know the plant and go through every single building to make sure all the equipment is on the maintenance schedule and in good working order.”

Mock plant inspections and diligent follow-up correct any problems. Experience also helps. With more than 100 collective years in operations, the staff does it all, including lab work, routine maintenance and customer service.

A new plant in 2000 exposed operators to different filtration technology and sludge handling equipment. Diligent training and mock equipment startups brought them up to speed. Other challenges include getting just the right chemistry to treat the lake water, and preparing for award competitions.

“Some of our operators have six months’ experience and some have much more, but they check their egos at the door and work together to make each other better. This is why we are successful,” says McCoy. This success is reflected in awards, including Plant of the Year and the Gold Award for 100 percent compliance from the Georgia Association of Water Professionals (GAWP) in 2012. It was the facility’s fourth Plant of the Year award for surface water plants with greater than 50 mgd capacity, and its eighth Gold award.

“These awards serve to motivate and help the staff to be better operators,” says McCoy. “If they don’t win an award, they mope around like their spouse just left them.”

Better Process

Macon Water Authority owns the 60 mgd Amerson conventional treatment plant along with the Rocky Creek and Lower Poplar Street Water Reclamation Facilities. The authority’s division of water operations also oversees 75 acres of wetlands on plant property.

The Amerson facility, built beside the newly constructed 5.8-billion-gallon Town Creek Reservoir (now named Javors J. Lucas Lake), replaced a century-old water treatment plant that was heavily damaged in a 1994 flood. The city-owned lake and 3,000 acre buffer were built to meet future needs.

Ocmulgee River water is pumped to the lake, which provides up to a five-month supply, and then to the Amerson plant for treatment with lime, chlorine dioxide, alum, potassium permanganate, granular activated carbon (GAC), chlorine, fluoride and phosphate. An additional booster pumping station connects the river intake and the Amerson plant, bypassing the lake. This alternative raw water pumping method allows continuous operation during maintenance or in case of emergencies.

Operators trained for six months on the Amerson plant equipment. The solids press building, high-service pumps, Wonderware SCADA software (Invensys), Leopold Clari-Vac floating sludge collector (Xylem) and generators were all new to them. The team conducted mock startups to make sure operators were comfortable with the equipment.

The new plant offered many improvements. “The old plant had steam-operated turbines and boiler,” says McCoy. “We now have variable-frequency drive pumps that automatically ramp up and down according to system demand.”

GAC filters replaced anthracite media, and plate presses replaced sludge drying beds. “Our GAC filters are top-of-the-line, and great for organics removal,” McCoy says. “We don’t have a problem with disinfection byproducts, since the filters remove most of the organics that can interact with the chlorine to form DBPs, such as trihalomethanes.” The process adds lime to the solids to raise the pH before dewatering. Solids are collected by Macon Soils, a Macon Water subsidiary, and distributed to farmers.

Versatile Team

Twelve operations staff keep the Amerson plant running smoothly. They report to McCoy, who holds a Class I operator license and has been with Macon Water for 10 years. He reports to executive director Tony Rojas. Team members include:

Jocelyn Hunt, assistant plant manager, Class I, 21 years at the plant

Sylvia McCrary, laboratory supervisor, water laboratory license, 25 years

William Brown (20-plus years), Dale Moorehead (20-plus years) and Chuck Mixon (11 years), Class I operators

Lisa Horne (eight years), Ronnie Evans (seven years) and Bill Maine (seven years), Class II operators

Adrian Ashley, Class III operator, (one year)

David Smith, Adrian Stokes and Randal Cole, trainees

The plant is staffed around the clock with an inside and outside operator on each shift. The inside operator conducts lab tests, monitors the SCADA system and handles customer service complaints. The outside operator conducts plant checks every two hours, backwashes the filters and runs the Clari-Vac system and filter presses.

Operators perform routine equipment maintenance and communicate to centralized maintenance staff and the buildings and grounds crew what needs to be done to maintain the buildings, 19 tanks and 57 lift stations.

Routine lab tests include turbidity, iron and manganese, hardness, alkalinity, chlorine, chlorine dioxide, chlorite, aluminum, fluoride, pH and phosphate. Operators use Hach turbidimeters, spectrophotometers and chlorine dioxide analyzers, and a Sartorius pH meter. Most lab tests are run every hour, and a few every two hours, to make sure the plant is producing consistent-quality water.

Treating the lake water can be a challenge. “We perform a daily jar test to optimize the correct chemical dosage that’s required to best treat the water,” says McCoy. “With the low turbidity in the lake, we sometimes have to use polymer as a weighting agent to eliminate the fine suspended particles that will not settle. We use chlorine dioxide to oxidize iron and manganese to prevent taste and odor problems.”

Since the plant serves as an administrative facility after hours, operators are responsible for customer service after 7 p.m. and on weekends and holidays. This includes sending on-call personnel to restore water service, dispatching field service and line maintenance crews, handling water complaints and writing work orders for water main repairs.

Staying Proactive

Preparing for the Plant of the Year award competition kept the operators on their toes. “We won the first award in 2002, but we’re only eligible every other year,” says McCoy. “We won every time except twice. We’re judged in the large systems category, so there’s a lot of competition, like the city of Atlanta, Gwinette County, Columbus Water Works, Dekalb County and other large utilities.

“My administrative assistant, Janice Wright, is a detail-oriented person, so I asked her to assist in conducting mock plant inspections, which the operators took very seriously. We graded the plant and the operators’ performance and let them know how they could improve on their overall knowledge and also correct plant weaknesses.”

McCoy assigned three operators to the operations committee, which met monthly and sent him reports. The members provided valuable feedback, such as suggesting changes in feed rates to improve turbidity removal. Operators inspected everything from lab chemical expiration dates to backflow preventers.
“Being proactive is what this committee was all about,” says McCoy. “Of course, our main job is to produce a quality product, and we’re very fortunate to have a water board that provides us with the necessary tools to keep producing safe, good-tasting water.”

Motivated Operators

The operators train and motivate each other, says McCoy, whether discussing the merits of a particular plant adjustment at a monthly staff meeting, or helping each other train for state certification exams. After attending a conference, they suggest different approaches to tasks and apply what they have learned to improve operations.

Operations and maintenance staff worked together on a project to keep leaves from plugging the intake bar screen. They installed a device to deflect the leaves downriver and regularly wash down the screen to prevent leaves from sticking to the bars. McCoy sets the plant’s operating parameters but lets operators make decisions — and mistakes — so they have the opportunity to learn. “I don’t need to micromanage,” says McCoy. “They are all water professionals.”

McCoy doesn’t foresee a need for upgrades: “We have lots of capacity, and in fact we’re averaging only 25 mgd now. But by 2016 we may see more stringent regulations, such as the new coliform and THM regulations that will make it necessary to change our method of operation.”

The plan is to continue with community outreach and environmental activities. “We have an open house during AWWA National Drinking Water Week and conduct tours throughout the year,” McCoy says. “We speak at various public meetings when requested and participate in career days at area schools.”
During the open house, the public can learn about drinking water production while touring the plant. They also learn how Macon Water works to protect the community’s water supply and natural resources. Hunt assists with annual river clean up, monitors solids that are returned to the river and creates source water protection plans.

McCoy and his staff plan to continue pursuing awards, which motivate staff and encourage them to improve plant operations. His advice to other plant managers: Allow operators to visit other plants for new ideas and, if the budget allows, have them attend local conferences for networking. “Be proactive,” he says. “Get your operators involved and keep them abreast of what’s going on. They are your eyes and ears of plant operations. Become more hands on, and you will be successful.”

More Information

Denver Instrument - 800/321-1135 - www.denverinstrumentusa.com

Hach Company - 800/227-4224 - www.hach.com

Invensys Operations Management - 949/727-3200 - www.iom.invensys.com

Leopold - a Xylem Brand - 704/409-9700 - www.fbleopold.com


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