Highly Decorated

An Alabama water utility succeeds with experienced operators, exceptional maintenance and pride in producing a quality product.
Highly Decorated
The team at the Burwell Water Treatment Plant includes, from left, Keith Webster, Grade II operator; Wade Hodges, facilities and fleet maintenance I; Mike Oliver, director of operations, Matt Webster, facilities and fleet maintenance I; Lonnie Boles, chief operator; Charles Mitchell, Grade IV operator; and Chad Reed, facilities and fleet maintenance supervisor.

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Excellence is a way of life at Alabama’s Harvest-Monrovia Water & Sewer Authority. The authority’s 10 mgd Burwell Water Treatment Plant and 2 mgd Mt. Zion Water Treatment Plant have been recognized repeatedly for quality operations, and its distribution system also ranks with the state’s best.
Roger Raby, general manager, says the credit belongs to highly experienced operators and maintenance personnel who thrive on teamwork, attention to detail and pride in a job well done.

Rural water board

The water authority, serving the rural communities of Harvest and Monrovia in Madison County, was formed in 1965 with a three-member board appointed by the county commission. The water system started with 700 meters, two wells, a 350,000-gallon storage tank and 40 miles of water mains. The water was pumped from the Tuscumbia-Fort Payne Aquifer, disinfected with chlorine gas, and sent to customers.

The system grew along with the population and today serves 45,000 people. It has 15,500 metered connections, seven wells, seven storage tanks and 350 miles of pipeline. In 2000, the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) classified the system as groundwater under the influence.

“With growth in the area and all homes on septic tanks, there was a problem with coliform showing up at the well sites,” says Mike Oliver, director of operations and engineering. “A water treatment plant had to be built.”

The Burwell direct filtration plant was built in 2003 with 6.5 mgd capacity; after a year, it was tested and uprated to 10 mgd. The plant uses Hach instruments and lab equipment, Watson-Marlow chemical feed pumps, Peerless vertical turbine high-service pumps, U.S. Motors vertical motors (Nidec), Allen-Bradley PLCs (Rockwell Automation), and United blowers for air scour.

“The finished water turbidity has been 0.1 NTU or less for seven straight years,” says Lonnie Boles, chief operator, in his 11th year at the plant.

Raby adds, “We’ve had some of the same operators since the plant was built, and the facility looks as good today as the day it started up. Good maintenance makes all the difference; if something breaks, we fix it right away.”

In 2008, the authority built the Mt. Zion direct filtration plant — five miles from Burwell — to handle the growing population. The authority chose a membrane package plant (Pall Corporation) for the Mt. Zion facility for its smaller footprint. “Also, we didn’t need pre-sedimentation, since we were treating well water with turbidity of less than 1 NTU and very little organics to settle out,” says Raby.

Two plants, one team

Seven full-time operators and three maintenance staff members support both water treatment plants. Besides Boles, who holds a Grade IV water operator license, they are:

Grade IV operators Charles Mitchell (11 years), Greg Chappell (11 years), Troy Laxson (eight years), Burt Inman (six years), Matt Parvin (six years) and Richie Naves (five years), and Grade II operator Keith Webster (17 years)

Facilities and fleet maintenance supervisor Chad Reed (Grade IV, seven years) and facilities and fleet maintenance I employees Wade Hodges (five years) and Matt Webster (two years)

The Burwell plant is staffed around the clock. One operator staffs the Mt. Zion plant (two in summer) during an eight-hour shift, with SCADA system monitoring during off-hours. “They rotate the day and night shift, and work seven 12-hour days, and then they’re off for seven days,” says Boles.

On a typical day, operators communicate with the previous shift team about any concerns, check tank levels with the SCADA system, check incoming and outgoing plant flow, and determine whether flow changes are needed throughout the day.

They check chemical storage tank levels, verify chemical feed rates, check chemical pumps and pipes for leaks, and service pumps for vibration and overheating. They also check pipes and valves in the pipe gallery and chemical injection sites for any problems. They monitor raw and filtered turbidity and pH levels and perform filter washes and lab tests on raw and finished water samples.

Team members lead plant tours for elementary and middle school students and take part in the Madison County Drinking Water Festival, held each year in May to educate children about surface water and groundwater with hands-on activities.

Operators take on-site classes twice a year for their continuing education credits, and the plant holds memberships in AWWA, the Alabama Water and Pollution Control Association (AWPCA) and the Alabama Rural Water Association.

A few challenges

Boles and Mitchell were challenged with construction and startup of the Burwell plant. “They were both hired to oversee the plant’s construction and become familiar with the area before the plant was placed in operation,” recalls Raby. After startup, they received hands-on training from the equipment suppliers. “We learned enough to get started, and learned the rest as we went,” says Boles.

Pall Corporation provided on-site training before the Mt. Zion package plant started up. “After startup, we created a schedule that allowed the floating operator to work at the Burwell plant during the day, so we could rotate the day shift operator to work at Mr. Zion with the operator who trained with Pall,” says Boles.

Both plants are performing with no issues. “We don’t have very high turbidity most of the time, but it can happen if the well levels drastically change, as in drought years,” says Oliver. Disinfection byproducts are rare because of the low level of organics in the groundwater. “We keep disinfection byproducts in mind but have only seen a spike when we purchased water from an adjoining system, which we do in emergency conditions.”

A major drought in 2007 caused lower-than-normal water levels in the wells. “The drought lasted around 18 months, and major conditions lasted six months,” says Boles. “We implemented mandatory conservation in the summer of 2007, and in 2008, we drilled an additional well.”

Tough times

The greatest weather challenge came in April 2011 when an EF5 tornado — the highest rating on the Enhanced Fujita Scale — damaged the main feed from the local electric utility, leaving the Burwell plant without power for a week.

“We had backup generators at the plant and wells, but no power at the tanks for our SCADA system,” recalls Raby. “We were running blind.” With no cellphone service in the area, field employees had to rely on truck radios to report back to the plant with tank levels and other operational information.

“We went old school and operated from pressure readings throughout the system,” says Raby. “Even with houses destroyed and damaged customer connections, we did not experience any loss of pressure on the system. We all went above and beyond during that time. The team members are self-motivated. They know what to expect and are willing to go the extra mile,” says Boles.

Even though the community is growing — more than 500 meters were added in 2013 — there are no plans to upgrade the water plants. “A lot of older plants have to upgrade, but newer technology was already available when we built our plants,” says Raby. “All our new well sites have variable-frequency drive pumps, so they’re energy efficient.”

The Authority plans to build a 35-acre lake to mitigate future droughts. “We have the property available, and have done the preliminary engineering on it, but there is no definite construction date yet,” says Raby.

In the meantime, the authority is searching for new well sites. But the main goal is to keep providing the community with award-winning service. Says Raby, “We credit the employees for their hard work and pride in providing this service, and we also give credit to our customers for holding us to a high standard.”

More Information

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

Nidec Motor Corporation - 888/637-7333 - www.usmotors.com

Pall Corporation - 800/645-6532 - www.pall.com/water

Peerless Pump Company - 800/879-0182 - www.peerlesspump.com

Rockwell Automation - 414/382-2000 - www.rockwellautomation.com/industries/water

United Blower Inc. - 770/479-3111 - www.unitedblower.com

Watson-Marlow Pumps Group - 800/282-8823 - www.wmpg.com


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