A Little Gem

An award-winning Connecticut direct filtration package plant relies on just two operators to provide exceptional water for several thousand customers.
A Little Gem
Steve Giordano (left), Class IV operator, and Jeff Rines, chief operator, lead a highly experienced team at the Crystal Lake Water Filtration Plant.

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When the seasons change, Jeff Rines and Steve Giordano carefully watch their source water organic and turbidity levels and make water treatment plant process adjustments.

Their plant’s upflow clarifiers help them deliver consistently high-quality water for 11,000 residents (2,300 service connections) in the rural town of Winsted, Conn. “It’s a little gem in the hills, with Highland Lake for recreation and Crystal Lake and Rugg Brook for our water supply,” says Rines, chief operator.

Built in 1998, the 850,000 gpd Crystal Lake Water Filtration Plant is blessed with an abundant water supply. Operated by Winsted Water Works, the plant has never suffered from droughts, and dams at both lakes prevent flooding. For Rines and Giordano, his fellow operator, the greatest challenges have included dealing with seasonal water-quality changes and learning how to operate and maintain the upflow clarifiers.

They have easily met the challenges. Winsted Water Works won the 2013 Water Operations Award from the Atlantic States Rural Water and Wastewater Association. Rines credits the utility’s good relationship with the state Department of Public Health. “Our employees are certified and maintain their CEUs, and we have never been on the DPH watch list,” he says.

Another success factor is the waterworks’ pledge to “better and progress its water system to meet the ever-increasing requirements of providing safe drinking water to customers.”

Highly experienced

Winsted Water Works employs two operators at the water plant and a working foreman and two utility workers who handle distribution. They are a highly experienced team. Besides Rines (Class IV water treatment certification, 25 years of experience) and Giordano (Class IV, one year), the team includes:

  • Jim McCarthy, foreman and chief operator of distribution (Class II water treatment and water distribution certifications, 26 years)
  • Mark Lombardo, utilityman IV (Class II water treatment and water distribution certifications, 24 years)
  • Mike Girolamo, utilityman IV (Class II water treatment and water distribution certifications, 16 years)

Rines came to the water industry with a construction background: “I had been working for Borghesi Building & Engineering Company in Torrington. A close friend told me about an opening in the Winsted water department, and I was hired as a utilityman III in 1988. I got a lot of good on-the-job experience in water distribution. Pat Hague, the water supervisor, encouraged me to get my water management certificate so I could run the soon-to-be-built water treatment plant. I’m still here 25 years later.”

Rines reports to Neal Amwake, public works director. “He’s a very knowledgeable individual and is there when I need him, but he trusts me to do my job,” says Rines.

The team attends quarterly classes through the ASRWWA to maintain certification. “They hold seminars at the local fire station, so it’s convenient for our staff to attend,” Rines says. “The association has been a godsend for us. When we first had to learn how to do our consumer confidence reports, they sent someone out with a template and went through it with us.”

Direct filtration

Before the plant was built, engineers determined there was no need for conventional filtration, as the source water contained low turbidity. The town chose a direct filtration system with a Microfloc Adsorption Clarifier (purchased from US Filter, now sold by WesTech Engineering) that combines mixing, flocculation and clarification in one step. The plant runs two of its three upflow clarifiers at a time — the third is for redundancy.

“We add alum and polymer to the clarifier influent so that a smaller floc is created,” Rines says. “The floating plastic media grabs the floc and removes around 65 percent of it. Our mixed-media filter takes out the rest.” The filtered water is chlorinated and fluoridated before distribution. The operators maintain a 0.40 mg/L chlorine residual in the system. Samples are sent weekly to an outside lab to satisfy DPH requirements.

US Filter personnel trained the staff on the clarifier. “I worked with the rep for a month and a half before going online with the new plant,” says Rines. “For a year after startup, we stayed in contact for operational help.” Other plant equipment includes:

  • Chemical feed pumps (Milton Roy)
  • Raw, finished and backwash water pumps (Fairbanks Nijhuis)
  • Turbidimeters, pH meters and chlorine analyzers (Hach)
  • Chemical injectors (Saf-T-Flo)

The upflow clarifiers work well; the plant’s finished water turbidity is typically 0.05 NTU, but has been as low as 0.03 NTU. “We see higher turbidities in the fall from the turnover of organics as the temperature changes in the lake,” says Rines, who took a chemistry course at Gateway Community College in North Haven, Conn. “The clarifier handles it, but we have to adjust with proper chemistry addition.”

Training challenges

Besides learning to operate the upflow clarifier, Rines was challenged with the new programmable logic controller (PLC) and iFix software (GE). “We upgraded to this a few years ago,” he says. “The plant isn’t staffed 24/7 and the PLC takes care of that, so I am at its mercy. PLCs are outside my scope of computer literacy. We have contracted with Automated Concepts to handle any PLC problems.”

Rines trained on the PLC software at a similar plant in Norwich, Conn. “Our building engineers, who had also done a project there, hooked me up with operator Debbie Ouellette at the Norwich plant,” says Rines. “I can’t say enough about how much she helped me get acquainted with plant operations.” Although the PLC is the “brains of the system,” Rines can operate things manually if necessary.

Rines and Giordano work 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, and take turns working 7 to 9 a.m. on weekends. “I trained Steve on the job, and he also received a water management certificate from Gateway Community College,” says Rines. “He’s been a good addition, with a strong maintenance background. I focus on instrument calibration, and Steve is good with motor maintenance.”

All hands on deck

The team has faced a few operating hurdles. “I was out of state on vacation. Steve was fairly new and having a problem with the PLC, which had shut down certain processes,” recalls Rines. “All of our distribution people, who are Class II water treatment operators, went to the plant and helped him out.” Operators return the favor: “When there is a big distribution problem, it’s all hands on deck, and Steve helps by repairing water main leaks or any other big job that needs to be done.”

The operators’ biggest challenge was replacing the failed air diffusers in one of the upflow clarifiers in 2007. “The pipes had become clogged with media, which prevented airflow during flushes,” says Rines. “So, with very little advisement and no experience, we had to jump in with both feet.”

The fix required removing three large I-beams and angle irons that held down four stainless steel wire mesh screens. Then, the clarifier’s floating media had to be herded into the filter compartment to get at the ten 2.5-inch plastic pipes that each held eight plastic air diffusers.

“We replaced all 80, and the repairs and refill took about three days,” says Rines. “Mark and Mike helped us put everything back in place.” Eventually, the other two clarifiers needed the same rescue: “By the time we got to the third one, we were quite good at it.”

Besides equipment operation and maintenance, Rines and Giordano handle all the grounds work, painting and facility maintenance. “I do everything from mopping the floor to taking an instrument apart, filing state reports, and dealing with vendors and customers,” says Rines. “Steve can be doing daily tasks in the lab one minute and mowing the lawn the next. We keep the plant sparkling and have gotten a ‘Wow’ from vendors who have said it’s one of the cleanest places they have seen.”

Future goals

Rines considers the plant’s future needs: “Package plants are known to have a life span. Our motors and pumps are 15 years old, and when they get to be 25, we may have to make changes. Filter media replacement and worn pump impellers are just a few areas that we will need to address.”

Another concern is tightening regulations. “We’ve seen changes in the surface water treatment rules and sample points in the distribution system,” says Rines. The levels for haloacetic acids (HAA5) and trihalomethanes (THMs) were lowered about a dozen years ago. “It’s always a challenge to meet the numbers, but we have been successful. There will soon be another group of disinfection byproducts to be tested for. Water regs are constantly evolving, and operators have to be aware of how to deal with the changes.”

Rines doesn’t see the need to upgrade plant capacity anytime soon, as it was overbuilt for fire protection. “It was originally supposed to be a 4 mgd plant built for future expansion, with four 1.0 mgd upflow clarifiers. But the clarifier vendor offered us three 2.0 mgd systems for the same price. We run the plant at 1.0 mgd in the summer and 800,000 gpd in the fall.”

He advises those who want to become operators to get their operator-in-training certification before applying for a job. “There is a market here in Connecticut, but to get your foot in the door, you have to have your Class IV license. You can’t really learn on the job at a small utility, since the state requires two Class IV operators at every plant.”

Ample satisfaction

The team takes great pride in providing a good product. “I was born and raised in Winsted, and so were Jim, Mark and Mike,” says Rines. “There are a lot of eyes on you in this business, so you have to deliver quality.” A football coach and basketball referee in his spare time, Rines jokes, “We’re like umpires or referees; if people are not talking about you, everything is cool.”

He adds, “My mom is one of my customers, which also makes me want to do a good job. She lets me know if she’s not happy.”

More Information

GE Intelligent Platforms - 800/433-2682 - www.ge-ip.com

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

Milton Roy, LLC - 800/693-4295 - www.miltonroy.com

Pentair - Fairbanks Nijhuis - 913/371-5000 - www.fairbanksnijhuis.com

Saf-T-Flo Water Services - 714/632-3013 - www.saftflo.com

WesTech Engineering, Inc. - 801/265-1000 - www.westech-inc.com


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