Winning Formula: Asheville's Leslie Carreiro Leads With Enthusiasm

Leslie Carreiro’s duties span three water plants and a 1,671-mile distribution system. She handles it all with commitment and energy.
Winning Formula: Asheville's Leslie Carreiro Leads With Enthusiasm
The staff at North Fork includes, from left, Terry Pate, watershed technician; Lee Hensley, water production maintenance supervisor; Steve Turner, operator III; Andy Whitener, operator II; Stephanie Williams, operator I; Karen Good, administrative assistant; Bill Hart, North Fork plant supervisor; and Leslie Carreiro, water production superintendent.

Baking and cooking are the cornerstones behind Leslie Carreiro’s career as a chemist. Working first for a pharmaceutical company, then in the laboratory of the North Fork Water Treatment Plant in Asheville, North Carolina, Carreiro nurtured her love of combining ingredients to achieve product purity and consistency.

After 14 years in the laboratory, Carreiro was promoted to the plant superintendent role in 2005. That included managing seven work groups with 41 employees, three water treatment plants, two laboratories, 37 pump stations and 32 above-ground storage tanks.

She oversaw plant upgrades and developed monitoring and sampling programs for lead and copper, Cryptosporidium and Giardia, total organic carbon, compliance bacteria site planning, and the U.S. EPA unregulated contaminant-monitoring rule.

As a section leader of the all-volunteer North Carolina Waterworks Operators Association (NCWOA), Carreiro served on nearly every committee and chaired many of them while working toward the 2010-11 presidency. Her leadership in developing a plan to reorganize the group earned her the 2007 Special Award of Merit. She now chairs the nomination committee and serves on the state’s Water Treatment Facility Operators Certification Board. In 2014, NCWOA named Carreiro the Outstanding Operator of the Year.

Managing triplets

The city’s three water treatment plants supply a combined 20 mgd through 1,671 miles of distribution lines, serving more than 124,000 people in Asheville, plus parts of Buncombe and Henderson counties.

Pure mountain springwater flows from the North Fork Reservoir to the 31 mgd (design) North Fork Water Treatment Plant. There, raw water is chlorinated, mixed with aluminum sulfate and filtered. After operators adjust the pH, they add fluoride and corrosion inhibitors zinc orthophosphate and sodium bicarbonate. Finished water is chlorinated and distributed to storage tanks through 24-inch cast iron pipes and 36-inch steel pipes.

The 5 mgd (design) William DeBruhl Water Treatment Plant below the Bee Tree Reservoir also uses direct filtration. The 7 mgd (design) Mills River Water Treatment Plant pumps from the Mills River to a reservoir in which suspended materials settle out. Decanted water is pumped through an ozone system, flows to rapid mixers, moves to settling basins and travels back to ozonation. After granular activated carbon filtration, operators adjust the pH and add fluoride, corrosion inhibitors and chlorine.

“One of my biggest organizational challenges has been managing seven work groups spread out in three different towns,” says Carreiro. “Even communication between groups wasn’t efficient.” She campaigned for a laboratory supervisor and to designate laboratory personnel a separate work group. In response, the city hired Brenna Cook, whose duties include handling new distribution system regulations.

Cook has expanded communication among her three technicians and the plant supervisors and operators. “She established monthly meetings, enabling technicians to know what is on next month’s agenda, who is responsible for what, and to ask questions,” says Carreiro. “Brenna also is transferring certain responsibilities to them through a monthly review of standard operating procedures.”

Surrounded by the best

As the plants moved to a work order system and management of 72 assets, the city put Terry Harris, SCADA technician, in charge of the program. “My Water Resources Department staff had no electronic skills,” Carreiro says. “It was a breath of fresh air when Dave Stuart joined us in 2007 as our water information systems technician.” 

Terry Harris has since replaced Stuart. Harris took charge of fixing things before problems arose. He works closely with the IT department and is learning the software so that he can help troubleshoot it. Another major improvement came when Carreiro hired Russell Edwards, her “rock-star electrician,” for the Trades Worker Group. Edwards had been a 20-year career electrician with one of the plant’s contractors.

“Hiring people from the private sector usually doesn’t work because they’re accustomed to earning a lot more money,” says Carreiro. “When Russell applied, he was the perfect candidate because he’d serviced every pump station.” Edwards occasionally teams with Harris when pump stations have interface problems between the incoming signal and the mechanical response. “Russell has a bulldog attitude,” says Carreiro. “If he doesn’t know something, he’ll open manuals and call manufacturers until he has solved the problem.”

High expectations

Carreiro’s work groups include the three treatment plants and the North Fork laboratory, and Watershed, Water Information Systems, and Pumps and Reservoirs groups. “I feel like a juggler with all these balls in the air,” she says. “I’d really like to give some of them away.” She has campaigned for a facilities maintenance person to oversee the distribution assets and the Watershed and Trades Worker groups.

“I want to spend more time in the lab and working with the plants on another corrosion study to update the one we did in the early 1990s,” she says. “I believe we can change the type of coagulant we use, but that is never a random decision.”

Occasionally, weather throws a monkey wrench into Carreiro’s schedule. Asheville was hit by back-to-back hurricanes in 2004. Officials had closed the DeBruhl plant in 1999 to repair the spillway and part of the dam, then saw no reason to reopen the facility. The storms made them realize how important it was to have a redundant water source. Four years later the refurbished plant went online.

“After all the hard work, it was exciting to see water come out,” says Carreiro. “Then the phone rang before noon the next day. Four homes below the plant on Bee Tree Road were without water. Being told to shut down operations brought me to tears.” Until the problem was isolated, Water Maintenance opened DeBruhl’s distribution line and connected a temporary pump, which boosted pressure and supplied water to the homes for a month.

The homes, built while DeBruhl was closed, received water from one of North Fork’s pressurized lines or a 150,000-gallon Grove Stone tank. “No one realized this, or that the tank was slightly higher than the plant’s clearwell,” says Carreiro. When the tank became part of DeBruhl’s distribution system, there was just enough pressure for water to reach the customers’ meters, but not the houses 1/10 of a mile up the mountain. The city partnered with homeowners, and each received a private pump and storage tank.

Winter challenges

While Asheville temperatures dip slightly below freezing from December through February, the winter of 2014-15 broke many records. Lows held in the single digits or high teens for much of January and February, and the same homes were without water again. The Pumps and Reservoirs Group (three mechanics and an electrician) responded.

A day later the same customers awoke to no water again. This time the crew reached the holding tank to find it overflowing. The cycle continued every few days, especially after nights in the single digits. “We eventually figured out that water at the bottom of the tank froze overnight along with the water in the customers’ lines, which were less than 12 inches deep,” says Carreiro. “Then the ice would melt during warmer daytime temperatures.”

Last summer, workers insulated the inlet and outlet lines on the steel tank and wrapped them in heat tape. They also insulated the area under the tank. 

Leading by example

Carreiro’s contributions extend beyond the city to NCWOA. Members credit her leadership and communication skills for the organization’s rejuvenation, which included two re-evaluations of the strategic plan. As part of her dedication to mentoring junior operators and training tomorrow’s leaders, Carreiro works with the group’s School Committee on a program to assist students in the weeklong annual training schools in Morganton and Raleigh.

“The goal is to test enrollees, send them to class, then test them afterward to see where they need improvement,” says Carreiro. “The committee also wants to post tutorials of difficult subjects such as math, pumps and flocculation on our website.” Another goal is to film the blackboard as an instructor solves math problems and include voice-overs explaining the process. “The program has been very slow getting off the ground because we’re a small organization with limited resources,” she says.

Concerned about the lack of operators to replace those who retire, Carreiro was on the frontlines to help reach a joint agreement among the NCWOA, the North Carolina Rural Water Association, and the North Carolina AWWA/WEA. In 2007, a joint committee began a coordinated public outreach program. “We’re like the ‘silent service,’” she says. “We do our jobs so well young people don’t know we exist. Consequently, they don’t apply for jobs or choose water treatment as a career.”
Carreiro was also instrumental in initiating The website educates the public on the importance of safe drinking water and offers a single source for information and training throughout the industry.

“Her leadership, knowledge, commitment and enthusiasm are the key ingredients for the continued success of NCWOA and the ultimate goal of providing safe water to the public,” says Julius Patrick, water plant superintendent for the Greenville Utilities Commission. “Leslie is the voice for operators across the state and an unsung hero for the industry.”

Keeping fit

In high school, Leslie Carreiro realized that running enabled her to eat multiple chocolate chip cookies. Since then she has run half marathons, two marathons and other events, including two “cycle to farm” races. “Competitors bike to a local farm, munch on whatever produce is set out for them, then pedal to the next farm and eat again,” she says.

Carreiro typically runs 45 minutes to an hour a day, swims, and rides trail and road bikes. In bad weather she exercises in spin classes or on elliptical trainers. Because healthy people feel better and work better, she and Bob Fay, operator III, were instrumental in putting exercise equipment in the city’s three water treatment plants. “They each chose an elliptical trainer, and two also wanted weight benches,” says Carreiro. “Operators can workout while they monitor washing filters, during breaks or before and after shifts.”

The exercise bug has caught on. In June the Water Production/Water Quality Division entered three four-member teams in the annual Chamber Challenge, a 5K race. One group runs, another runs and walks, and the third walks. Carreiro finished in 26 minutes, 13 seconds.

“It’s not quite as fast as I’d like, but this year I had my fastest time up the long hill in the last mile,” she says. “As teams, we came in first in the City of Asheville, second in the government division, eighth in the men’s division, and 13th overall. I’m very proud and excited that about a third of my division competed and did so well.”


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