Where Good Chemistry Means Great Water

A highly educated staff and two on-site laboratories help keep quality water flowing at the Barren River Lake Water Treatment Plant.
Where Good Chemistry Means Great Water
The team at the Barren River Lake Water Treatment Plant includes, front row, from left: Brittany Pour, operator/lab analyst; Wesley Wilson, lab director/operator; and Scott Jones, operator/lab analyst. Second row: Lee Hammer, chief operator/lab analyst; Tim Smiley, superintendent; and Cody Richardson, operator. Third row: Scott Young, general manager; Chris Gentry, chief operator; and Tyler Emberton, operator trainee. Fourth row: Clint Harbison, engineering manager; and Billy Carver, systems op

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If water operators across the country had to take a chemistry test, it’s a good bet the Barren River Lake Water Treatment Plant team would be the winner.

Nearly all plant personnel have college degrees, many in chemistry, biology and environmental science. All operators also work in the plant’s microbiology or wet labs. And chemistry is the most important parameter in the successful operation of the plant.

“It’s really nice when you have people who have a good understanding of alkalinity and pH and other variables,” says Tim Smiley, superintendent of the plant in Glasgow, Kentucky. “If we have issues, we have operators with degrees ready to grasp the problem and understand it. It’s a nice blend of knowledge and experience. It makes a world of difference.”

It also means excellent quality water and recognition from peers in the profession; the plant won Kentucky’s Best Tasting Water award in 2012, a distribution award from the Kentucky Rural Water Association in 2014, and this year, Water Treatment Plant of the Year from the Kentucky Water and Wastewater Operators Association.

Conventional process

The Barren River Lake plant draws water from a reservoir on the Barren River. Four raw-water pumps bring the supply from the intake structure to the plant, which is rated for 12 mgd and averages about 6.76 mgd. Its conventional surface water treatment process consists of flocculation, sedimentation, filtration and disinfection.

Hydrogen peroxide is fed at the intake to oxidize organics and control iron and manganese. “You have to watch your doses, so as not to strip too much iron and manganese,” says Smiley. “We use Hach’s DR3900 spectrophotometer, and have good data on dosage. We’ve had good luck with the hydrogen peroxide as a pre-oxidant.”

At the plant, the water passes through a flash mix process where lime and a coagulant (Nichem chemical 4900) are added. Floc starts forming on the floc blades in the four rectangular settling basins, and the staff constantly monitors the water in an effort to maintain the biggest and best floc possible.

Tube settlers (Brentwood Industries), added during an expansion in 1997, help settle the solids. Sludge sweepers run on a cable pulley system and sweep solids twice a day from one end of each basin to the other. The sweepers, consisting of 4- to 6-inch pipe with suction holes, were added in 2007 and have made a difference. “We’ve had no buildup,” Smiley says. “We’re not pulling sediment into the filters.”

Solids are pumped to a holding tank; when they reach a certain level, another pump moves the material to lagoons next to the plant. After the solids dry, they are dug out and spread on utility-owned acreage around the plant. The clarified water flows to a main header that splits into two filtration trains, each containing six 30-inch-deep anthracite-sand-gravel filter beds with Leopold underdrains. Six of the filters were added during the 2007 plant expansion; the other six date back to the 1990s.

Finally, the flow is chlorinated, polyphosphate is added for corrosion control and fluorosilicic acid for fluoridation. Finished water is stored in an 8.4-million-gallon container before being pumped into the 800-mile distribution system. Smiley’s team monitors the distribution network using a SCADA system (HTI). A maintenance crew responds to line breaks and manages new line installation. The utility’s engineering department helps hold down external costs for planning upgrades — another 6 mgd expansion is being planned.

Chemistry in balance

Using chemistry, Smiley and his staff watch over the plant the way a mechanic might fine-tune the engine of a classic automobile. Chlorination is an example. “We sometimes add chlorine at the flash mix points or in the settling basins, instead of at the end of the process,” Smiley says. “We get longer chlorine contact times when we add it at flash mix.”

At the same time, chlorine helps depress the pH of the water, and manipulating pH in this way can help the function of the coagulants being added at the same point. “Lime increases our alkalinity,” Smiley says. “We need a little chlorine to depress pH.”

The approach works best during winter, but from April to November the staff adds chlorine at the sedimentation basin. This lessens the contact time and reduces formation of trihalomethane (THM) and haloacetic acids (HAAs). “Temperature plays a big role in the formation of THM and HAA,” says Smiley. If necessary, the staff can also employ post-chlorination at the storage reservoir.

Operational adjustments like these show that the laboratory is the nerve center of the plant, and both the wet lab and a microbiology lab are well used. The wet lab enables the staff to test daily for alkalinity and hardness, scaling, pH, fluoride, peroxide, manganese, iron and chlorine. “We walk a fine line on chlorine,” says Smiley. “The EPA and the state require us to have a 0.2 ppm chlorine residual throughout our distribution system. We watch disinfection byproducts and bacteria very closely.”

Keeping it clear

The same goes for turbidity. “We’ve been meeting Area-Wide Optimization Program standards of below 0.3 NTU 95 percent of the time for 10 consecutive years,” says Smiley. To maintain a low-turbidity profile, the staff monitors turbidity continuously at four points: raw water, top of the filters, combined filter effluent and finished water.

“The lab has four separate faucets we draw from and test,” says Smiley. “Each carries water from one of the sampling points.” While the Hach equipment monitors continuously, the faucets enable the staff to manually check water quality and chemistry, as well. Taste and odor are also tested, as are algae blooms at certain times of the year.

While all operators are proficient in the wet lab, they are just as well versed in operating the plant’s microbiology lab. “The lab has the same standards as the state’s microbiology lab,” says Smiley, who built the lab when he joined the staff several years ago. “Having it helps us keep the water safe. If we have a break in the distribution system and have to issue a boil order, the sooner we get results from our own lab, the sooner we can notify our customers.”

The plant also doesn’t have to send samples to an outside lab and worry about hold times.

The knowledge of chemistry helps keep costs down, too. “We’re really conscientious on dosing and proper use of chemicals,” says Smiley. “We cut all the waste. Plus, with a good source water, we can keep coagulants and other dosages down. That helps save on costs.”

The road ahead

Even a smooth-running operation like the Barren River Lake plant must look ahead, and Smiley’s team sees a number of challenges, some of which may increase costs. The plant needs to replace the media in the older set of filters. “During the 2007 upgrade, we added six new filters, but now, according to our filter profiles, we probably need to be replacing the media and cleaning out the older set of filters,” Smiley says. “For us, that’s a big project and a big cost.”

The filters haven’t exhibited breakthrough, but the plant needs to stay ahead of the situation.

And while planning for expenditures, the team recognizes the value of investment. “We just replaced the roofing on our intake and chemical buildings,” Smiley says. That makes the structures more energy-efficient and that will pay dividends by reducing heating costs.

While investing in the plant is prudent, Smiley values investment in people even more. If there’s anything he’s learned in the water profession it’s the necessity to hire qualified people.

The team includes:

  • Chris Gentry, chief operator
  • Lee Hammer, chief operator and lab analyst
  • Wesley Wilson, microbiology lab director/operator
  • Scott Jones and Brittany Pour, operators and lab analysts
  • Cody Richardson, operator
  • Tyler Emberton, operator trainee

“It all goes back to personnel,” he says. “From top to bottom, your biggest asset is your people. Our people care. It’s not just a 9-to-5 job. You can’t just walk out the door and forget it. We get really close at the water plant. We don’t have a day off — treating water never stops. We rely on each other. If we have an issue, my staff calls me and asks what they can do.”

Smiley says that feeling of dedication and mutual respect comes from his administration and works its way down through the organization: “The quality of the people you have reflects the quality of the water you’re putting out.”

In memoriam

As pleased as Tim Smiley and his staff were about receiving the recent Water Treatment Plant of the Year award from the Kentucky Water and Wastewater Operators Association, the honor was somewhat bittersweet. That’s because Chase Powell, one of the operators most responsible for the award, was killed in an automobile accident last August.

Powell had been on Barren River Lake plant staff for three years. His death demonstrated how close-knit the plant staff is. Smiley says everyone attended Powell’s funeral and felt the loss personally as well as professionally.

“Chase was my organizer,” says Smiley.

“He had a degree in environmental science from the University of Kentucky, and he was really particular about keeping records. He had all our data and information organized in file folders, and that made it a lot easier to find things as we compiled the information for the award application. He even organized our tool room.”

The award is given annually for having at least a two-year operational record that demonstrates proficient operations in accordance with all required permit standards, with no more than one violation in the last 12 months.


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