Building on Innovation: Louisville Water Earns 2 Phase IV Awards

Louisville Water is the second utility in the US to earn two Phase IV awards from the Partnership for Safe Water.
Building on Innovation: Louisville Water Earns 2 Phase IV Awards
Crescent Hill Gatehouse and Reservoir was built in 1879 as the first step in Charles Hermany’s quest for pure water for the City of Louisville. Holding 110 million gallons of Ohio River water, the reservoir is still in use and is a favorite walking destination. In 2015, Louisville Water restored the gatehouse and now opens it for tours and special events.

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Louisville Water is the largest and oldest water company in Kentucky and has a 156-year history of innovation.

Its research led to the development of rapid sand filtration in the late 1800s. Louisville was one of the first cities in the country to fluoridate, and the first water utility in the world to combine a tunnel with gravity-fed wells as a drinking-water source.

The company continues to raise the bar for quality, investing heavily in its two water treatment plants and the 4,100-mile distribution system. As a Partnership for Safe Water member since 1999, the company has met the Phase I, II and III requirements at both plants. In 2010, it received the 10-year Director’s Award for maintaining Phase III status for 10 consecutive years.

In that same year, the B.E. Payne Water Treatment Plant received the Phase IV Excellence in Water Treatment award, and the Crescent Hill Water Treatment Plant followed suit in 2015.

Louisville Water is one of only two utilities to receive the Phase IV award for two different water treatment plants. It was all possible because of 425 dedicated employees, including 24 plant operations staff members. “Our operators and mechanics focus on quality and respond immediately to any changes,” says Ruth Lancaster, production supervisor. “This is embedded in our culture.”

Innovating for quality

From the time it first pumped water to 512 customers in 1860, Louisville Water has been committed to the community. In the 1990s, the utility increased its spending in replacing or repairing aging water mains; it has invested more than $165 million to date in that effort.   

Its Riverbank Filtration Project at the B.E. Payne plant uses a 1 1/2-mile tunnel 150 feet belowground and a collector well system to draw Ohio River water that is naturally filtered in the sand-gravel aquifer below. When completed in 2011, it was named a Best Civil Engineering Achievement by the American Society of Civil Engineers.

Because the water is naturally filtered, it requires less treatment. The process eliminates taste and odor and provides an additional barrier for pathogen removal. It also creates a stable water temperature of about 55 degrees, resulting in fewer water main breaks.

“We’ve always been innovative and committed to serving the public, and that’s why we joined the Partnership for Safe Water,” says Dr. Jack Wang, director of water quality and production. “Meeting the standards is not enough.”

For the Partnership program, the company formed a cross-functional team that included Wang and front-line employees, supervisors and managers. Scientist Chris Bobay prepared the recent Crescent Hill Treatment Plant Phase IV application data and report with contributions from the team. “Representatives from plant operations, maintenance and the water-quality laboratory group worked together on the self assessment,” says Wang. “They identified areas of strength, but also areas that needed improvement.”

For example, the computerized data collection and storage system was difficult to access and did not store all Crescent Hill plant turbidity values requested by the Partnership.

The team upgraded the SCADA system and began using more robust software to store and analyze plant data from online analyzers. They also upgraded the laboratory information management system.

Largest in Kentucky

The 180 mgd Crescent Hill conventional treatment plant, built in 1909, is the largest water treatment facility in the state and was one of the first rapid sand filtration plants in the country — a product of Louisville Water’s pioneering research.

The 60 mgd B.E. Payne plant was built in 1978 to meet the booming suburban population. The plant’s riverbank filtration source water has such low turbidity (typically less than 0.5 NTU) that conventional coagulants are not required. Water is softened before filtration.

The plants deliver an average of 121 mgd to over 850,000 people in Louisville and surrounding counties. The plants’ equipment and processes (lime feed, on-site chlorine generation, multimedia filtration) are nearly identical. Plant equipment includes ClorTec hypochlorite generators (Severn Trent De Nora), GE and Eaton electrical switchgear, GE and Ideal motors, Phoenix filter underdrains (AWI), chemical feed pumps (Watson-Marlow Fluid Technology Group), TEKKEM lime slaking systems (RDP Technologies), and a SCADA system using programmable logic controllers from Rockwell Automation.

Source water for the riverbank filtration system and the Crescent Hill plant is the Ohio River. The plants are interconnected, and the finished water is mixed.

Major renovation

The Crescent Hill plant’s Phase IV award would not have been possible without a $90 million renovation in 2009-12. The renovation also allowed the plant to outperform new federal regulations and improve public safety. Improvements included:

  • Replacing the filter underdrain and installing new media
  • Installing a new air-scour backwash system with new pumps and backwash tanks
  • Installing vertical mixers and upgrading the softening clarifiers
  • New lime feed system
  • Installing static mixers in the softening influent/effluent ducts
  • Replacing horizontal flocculators with vertical mixers and upgrading four settling basins
  • Providing new dechlorination facilities with a new sodium bisulfite feed system
  • Upgrading chemical systems with new peristaltic feed pumps on the ferric, polymer and carbon systems, as well as new mag flowmeters on all feed points and upgraded coagulant storage
  • Replacing a 55-year-old lime-dust control system
  • Installing a sodium permanganate feed system
  • Installing a 0.8 percent sodium hypochlorite generation facility to eliminate the risk of a liquid chlorine railcar feed system
  • Replacing the anhydrous ammonia gas system with commercially available 19 percent aqueous ammonia solution and upgrading to a 30-day storage volume, while adding improved mixing to increase the efficiency of chloramine formation.

A control room upgrade added multiple large-screen monitors and overhead security camera displays. The upgrade also included a raised flooring system, efficient lighting, a server room, UPS backup system, and an independent HVAC and fire suppression system.

Upgrades to the B.E. Payne plant have included conversion to riverbank filtration source water, renovating the filters, upgrading flocculation mixers and settling basins, and converting to on-site chlorine generation and aqueous ammonia. An additional project added diesel backup generators capable of powering treatment plant production at 50 percent of design capacity.

Providing feedback

Louisville Water operators are involved in plant upgrade decisions. “Their experiences and feedback drive decisions to upgrade or replace equipment,” says Wang. “They document equipment issues in an automated maintenance tracking system that can be used to track equipment efficiency and pinpoint the type of upgrades needed.” The engineering department creates the plans and specifications. As projects progress, operators and mechanics make suggestions on matters such as equipment placement and the types of pipes and fittings that would be easiest to use.

“There is something new happening all the time, whether it’s a treatment issue, or piece of equipment or a class to advance their training,” says Lancaster.
Wang adds, “It’s important for the team to have a good support system. We have on-call supervisors for operations, laboratory and maintenance who are available at night and on weekends so operators can call them with questions.”

Besides Lancaster, who holds a Class IV-A surface water treatment license, the plant operations group includes:

  • Larry Bryant, manager of plant operations, IV-A
  • Vince Ilari, production supervisor, IV-A, IV-D
  • William Cyrus, system engineerDave Austin, Paul Barker, Scott Cockeril, Michelle Durham, Israel Temple, Tim Mills, Pete Betts, Lynn Slater and Scott Spalding, operators, IV-A
  • Alex McClanahan, Andrew Hornback and Pam Booher, relief operators, IV-A
  • Operator apprentices Shane Settles, Tina Smith (IV-A), Danny Lyons, Nate McMullen and Brian Farmer (IV-A)
  • Danny Lile and Mark Deignan, relief operator apprentices
  • Donna Drane, chemical systems attendant

“The operators work 12-hour shifts,” says Lancaster. “If they’re busy with a project, they sometimes don’t even take a lunch break. And they always step up to help each other out.” Each Crescent Hill operator is teamed with an operator apprentice working toward the five years’ plant operational experience required for a Class IV-A license.

Responding quickly

Operators have faced situations requiring quick response. Dave Austin was working alone on the night shift at the B.E. Payne plant when a filter effluent valve failed and went to the full-open position in the middle of a backwash.

“High-turbidity backwash water suddenly began leaving the filter and going straight to the clearwell,” says Lancaster. “We had been operating those filters for decades and never had anything like that happen.” Austin noticed the high turbidity, checked the instrumentation to verify the turbidity value, and quickly investigated and found the problem. Within 15 minutes, he stopped the backwash and turned off the high-lift pumps to prevent pumping high-turbidity water to the distribution system.

Within a half-hour, he emptied the clearwell of the slug of suspect-quality water by performing numerous backwashes. He took grab-samples from the clearwell every 15 minutes for the next three hours until the turbidity was less than 0.10 NTU (the plant’s internal finished water goal). Then, he restarted the high-service pumps.

“Dave’s quick response prevented poor-quality water from being pumped to the distribution system and a potential boil water advisory for more than 100,000 customers,” says Lancaster.

Another operator, Tina Smith, faced a crisis after working only a few dozen shifts in the operator role. “Tina was working a night shift when one of our two 60-inch transmission mains burst a quarter of a mile from the treatment plant/high-lift pumping station,” says Lancaster. “This happened at 2:45 a.m. Within three minutes, Tina detected a serious hydraulic issue and began notifying the on-call supervisor and production operations manager.”

By 3 a.m. she had shut off the high-lift pumping to the distribution system so crews could reach the break, which had caused major flooding, and operate valves to isolate the break area for repair.

While shutting down pumping in incremental stages to avoid pressure spikes, she also predicted the likely consequence of the break on treatment operations. If plant flow continued at the current rate without the high-lift pumps in service, the clearwell would overflow. She immediately began slowing down the plant flow in increments to prevent a plant shutdown on the following shift.

“By the time supervisors, managers and the company president arrived at 3:30 a.m., Tina had made and implemented all the right decisions,” says Lancaster. “Although her primary job is operator apprentice, she has obtained her IV-A license and has filled in for absent operators on some shifts. This was certainly a trial by fire for Tina, and she did an incredible job.”

Reaching out

Louisville Water is heavily involved in community outreach with employee volunteerism and education. The WaterWorks Museum at Louisville Water Tower Park offers public and private tours and field trips. The Adventures in Water program meets state curriculum guidelines and uses hands-on activities that make learning fun.

“We think of ourselves as more than a utility, and we’ve come a long way in public perception,” says Kelley Dearing Smith, director of strategic communications and government relations. The company’s school-based education and tours serve about 75,000 people a year.

The company hopes all this will help in recruiting water treatment professionals. Many employees are expected to retire in the next 10 years. “Educational outreach has to be on multiple fronts, from sparking interest at the elementary school level, to educating those in college who are about to make career decisions,” says Dearing Smith.

“Louisville Water is a lifeline to this community, but so often the product is taken for granted. We’re committed to elevating the value of drinking water, from river to faucet and then to the community.”

A quality brand

Louisville Water Company has a great product. Winner of the AWWA Best Tasting Tap Water in North America award in 2008 and 2013, the company often receives comments about its water.

The water even has a trademarked brand name — Louisville pure tap — to “promote the quality and value of tap water and provide a convenient and green way for guests to stay hydrated.” Louisville Water distributes 14- and 22-ounce bottles for free, and customers can order Louisville pure tap to go for large community events. As the website states, “There are lots of ways to get back to the tap.”

So, what do the operators at the company’s two water treatment plants think of all this? “They are proud because they treat the water,” says Ruth Lancaster, production supervisor. “When they see people drinking it, they say ‘I made that just for you.’”

Michelle Durham, a 22-year employee, plays the role of Tapper, the Louisville Water mascot who appears at parades, festivals and community events. Her costume? A glass of water that bears the Louisville pure tap logo.


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