Commitment by Collaboration

Operators at a Pennsylvania facility rely on teamwork and dedication to achieve excellence and a Partnership for Safe Water Directors Award.
Commitment by Collaboration
The Shady Lane facility is designed to deliver 3.7 mgd. It received a significant upgrade in 1998.

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Tucked away in the woods of East Vincent Township along Pennsylvania’s Schuykill River, the Shady Lane Water Treatment Plant has seen its share of challenges: lack of automation, high turbidity from rain events, algae blooms and the demands of meeting Partnership for Safe Water goals.

The operations staff has tackled them all and achieved success through dedication and teamwork. The plant received the Partnership Directors Award in December 2012 after implementing measures to improve operations. Operator suggestions included adding an alum dosing chart to improve chemical use efficiency and installing a measuring device on sedimentation baffle walls to measure sludge levels.

“When treatment challenges occur, the operators meet during the shift change to discuss issues and help each other through them,” says Robert Tagert, production supervisor. “They have a lot of years of collective experience. They conduct jar tests to make sure they’re optimizing chemical feeds, and they consult log books to see what they did in the past to solve the problem.”
The team works well together. “If an operator is busy with a problem, another team member will chip in to help,” says Tagert.

Rebuilt filters

Built in 1917, the 3.7 mgd conventional filtration plant serves about 15,000 customers in Montgomery and Chester counties. Pennsylvania American Water took over operations in 2001. The plant completed a two-phase upgrade in 1998, adding a new intake and piping. All four filters were rebuilt with new media and underdrains, improving turbidity levels and increasing filter efficiency. The plant switched from lime to sodium hydroxide feed for pH adjustment and replaced dry alum with bulk liquid alum to cut turbidity.

Despite the upgrade, challenges remain. “The filters are small, as is the 60,000-gallon clearwell,” says Tagert. “The plant’s footprint hasn’t changed, so adding new equipment can be a challenge.” Still, the facility performs well for an old plant: “The staff does great work, and it takes very little management for them to do a good job.”

Water from the Schuykill River flows into a deep well. Raw water is pumped from there (Peerless Splitcase pumps) into the plant, where alum, potassium permanganate and chlorine are injected via chemical feed pumps (Milton Roy). The water passes through a static mixer before entering six mixing basins. After polymer addition, the water enters the primary settling tank, where a vacuum system removes settled floc. Next, the water enters four secondary settling basins, the four filters, and finally the clearwell, where it is injected with chlorine, 25 percent sodium hydroxide and zinc orthophosphate.

The finished water pumps (Peerless Splitcase), filters and other equipment are automated. “This involved a lot of wiring and programming,” says Tagert. “We installed several water-quality analyzers and improved our chemical feed systems for better monitoring and control.” Other improvements include better filter backwash controls and automation of the raw water system (vacuum priming system, flow pacing on chemical feed system and more monitoring devices).

Experienced team

A staff of eight keeps the plant humming 12 to 24 hours a day depending on water demand. During the hot, dry summer, demand nearly doubles. Tagert, a Class A, E wastewater operator, has been with the plant for five years. Other team members are:

  • Jeff Chamberlain, production superintendent, Class A, E water operator’s license, 41 years with the plant.
  • Sandra Weiss, water-quality supervisor, Class A water operator, 24 years.
  • Plant operators Bruce Call (Class A, E, 25 years), Keith Crump (Class A, E, 15 years), Barry Holzhauser (one year).
  • Ed Harrington (Class A, 24 years), and Richard Dunlap (Class A, 20 years), maintenance relief operators.

During a typical day, operators start up the plant, open valves, turn on the pumps, take lab samples, manually backwash the filters and inspect the chemical feeders. The on-site lab performs wet chemistry tests for turbidity, alkalinity, pH, hardness, iron, manganese, color, zinc, orthophosphate and chlorine residual. Compliance samples are sent to a company lab in Illinois and bacteria samples to a company lab in Exeter, Pa.

Operators perform light maintenance, such as maintaining water-quality analyzers, changing chemical feed tubing and greasing and rebuilding pumps. The local American Water maintenance division staff assists when needed. “These staff members are located throughout Pennsylvania, but our primary maintenance services team member, Bill Fox, is based in Yardley, Pa., and covers the southeast part of the state,” says Tagert.

Some projects have been contracted out, such as installing a vacuum priming system, a flow orifice on the backwash line to control backwash flow to the filters, and new exterior LED security lighting. The plant conducts in-house safety training, and operators attend outside classes to meet or exceed the required continuing education units. The company also brings in training consultants through the state and national AWWA.

“We don’t conduct plant tours because of the plant’s age,” says Tagert. “It’s just not designed to have children touring the facility, but we’ve had some local officials take tours. We attend community days, where we set up a table and field questions. We also conduct presentations for local businesses and women’s groups.

Operation challenges

The plant’s greatest challenge is turbidity. “We have spikes in the river water quality from rain events,” says Tagert. “The quality can change from very clean water to very high turbidity in a short time.”

Ten inches of rain fell in June 2013, including three inches in one day. “This created a spike above 600 NTU,” says Tagert. “These spikes last a short time, then settle down around 200 and gradually drop from there. Our normal finished water turbidity is 0.03 to 0.04 NTU, which is well below the Partnership goal.”

Despite high rains, flooding has not been a problem. “The plant sits up pretty high from the river, and I imagine it is just over the floodplain,” Tagert says. “I’m told that during Hurricane Agnes in 1972 the water came close to flooding the plant, but never reached it. Our intake and deep well, which are located right at the river, do flood out from time to time, but this has not created any issues for us.”

An air burst system helps remove debris from the intake screens, a big help during high turbidity and in fall when the leaves start dropping. During dry conditions, the river drops and the raw water pH increases. Operators adjust the alum feed and reduce the sodium hydroxide feed to lower the pH. When algae blooms occur, operators adjust the treatment chemistry; the blooms have not caused any taste or odor issues.

On the grow

A future challenge will be dealing with growth as people move from neighboring Philadelphia. Says Tagert, “Growth in 2012 was a little over two percent, but the economy is picking up, and there are more housing developments going in and commercial construction.” Permitted for 3.7 mgd, the plant averages 2.8 to 3.0 mgd. During peak demand in the summer, the flow rises to 3.5 mgd.

“We currently rely on the plant, four wells and interconnects with two neighboring water systems [Pennsylvania American Water Norristown and Phoenixville Borough Water] to supply our additional water needs,” Tagert says.

Another challenge will be completing Phase IV of the Partnership program. In the meantime, team members will keep doing what they do best: providing exceptional quality water to the community. “They have a lot of pride in what they do and in having such high-quality water going out,” says Tagert. “It’s a great team that communicates well, and I’m proud of them.”


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