This Plant Shows How a Versatile Staff Can Keep Things Humming

An experienced and energetic staff and state-of-the-art systems spell excellence for the water system in Plant City, Florida.
This Plant Shows How a Versatile Staff Can Keep Things Humming
The Plant City operations team includes, from left, Patrick Murphy, chief plant operator; Brett Miller, plant operator 1 trainee; Josh Lawson, plant operator 4; Steve Saffels, utilities superintendent; Joel Young, plant operator 2; Zoe Chaiser, compliance coordinator; Wayne Everhart, superintendent of maintenance; and Mark Woodward, water conservation specialist.

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The operators at the Plant City Utilities  Operations Division are truly a multi-talented team.

They receive one-on-one training from a dedicated operations trainer when they join the staff. And once up to speed, they rotate from job to job, developing expertise in not only water treatment, but also wastewater treatment and water reclamation.

“All our operators are trained on evaluation and review of data, trends and monitoring,” says Steve Saffels, utilities superintendent for Plant City, about a dozen miles east of Tampa, Florida. “And they are encouraged to obtain advanced licensing through an incentive program that will give them percentage pay increases and one-time bonuses per advanced license.

The more they know, the better off we’ll be!”

Aquifer supply

Plant City draws its water through a series of wells drilled into the Floridan Aquifer. One of the world’s most productive groundwater sources, it underlies all of Florida and coastal areas of Georgia, Alabama and South Carolina.

The first well and a 250,000-gallon elevated storage tank were built in 1965. The installation was upgraded in 1997 with a high-service pump station and a 750,000-gallon inground storage basin. Additional wells were added in 1974, 1983 and 1989, each paired with 500,000-gallon elevated storage tanks. Well depths vary from 734 feet to just over 1,200 feet. A fifth well is under design.

At each well site, the water is dosed with polyphosphate to sequester iron and control corrosion of lead and copper. While Plant City has no lead pipes, the ductile iron pipes installed before the 1980s have lead-filled joints. Before water enters the storage tanks, sodium hypochlorite is added for disinfection and hydrofluosilicic acid for dental protection. Total water production is 5.3 mgd, although the system has a permitted capacity of 14.2 mgd.

Produced water flows by gravity from the elevated tanks and is pumped from the inground storage tank into a 135-mile looped distribution system. Pipe sizes range from 1 to 16 inches; about 36 percent of the lines consist of 6-inch ductile iron pipe. The system serves 12,900 metered customers, some with manual and others with radio meter reading.

The system has an approved 4-log virus removal plan using a set minimum disinfectant residual, a set minimum tank volume, and water temperature and pH calculations to achieve compliance. Plant City won the Best Medium System award from the Florida Rural Water Association in 2013. In 2014, the utility was honored for operational excellence by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

The system has operated in compliance with all regulations for more than 10 years. The sanitary survey inspection for 2015 found no deficiencies, and the system as of February 2016 has reported 48 months, and counting, without a lost-time accident.   

Versatile staff           

“Our facility is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” says Saffels. The 19 staff members in the utility’s Operations Division operate four drinking water plants, the wastewater treatment plant and the reclaimed water facility, while also managing distribution water quality. All operations staff members are required to achieve the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) Level C Water and Wastewater certifications.

The utility’s Maintenance Division is scheduled eight hours a day, five days a week and provides preventive maintenance and repairs to all water, wastewater and reclamation facilities. Personnel working on the water systems must obtain the FDEP Level 3 Distribution System certification.

The wells and interconnect are all monitored remotely via a Trihedral VTS SCADA system. A Hach Water Information Management Solution (WIMS) provides electronic tracking of operational and reporting data; Transcendent enterprise asset management and computerized maintenance management system (Mintek) tracks plant maintenance electronically.

The staff keeps the water safe through comprehensive cross-connection and flushing programs. The utility’s operations center responds to customer concerns around the clock. “Our phone number is the after-hours contact number for all Public Works departments,” Saffels says. “When a customer’s concern is received, the staff immediately contacts the appropriate department’s on-call person for customer response.” Customers are most often concerned about chlorine residual, taste, odor and color, and all operators are able to handle those concerns.

Data sophistication

The groundwater wells at Plant City date back nearly 60 years, but the electronic control and information systems are state of the art and have proven to be wise investments. The city has an annual contract with Hach that goes back 10 years; the system is continuously refined.

“Years ago, we penciled information on a piece of paper, then entered the information into a spreadsheet,” says Saffels. “All of our operator reports were done by hand. I would spend a day or more just inputting the data, orienting it, and then mailing out copies. Each of our four wells had a different report.”

Now the WIMS gathers data continuously and publishes it on a routine basis. Staffers can print out reports, scan them and email them monthly. “Preparation time has been reduced from a day or more to an hour and a half,” he says.

Likewise, the Transcendent system has modernized maintenance. All equipment is tagged so that it’s easy to scan a pump or a motor and log the information into the system. “The program syncs with software that produces maintenance reports,” says Saffels. While the program hasn’t reduced the number of staff needed to operate the system, it has greatly improved preventive maintenance and financial performance. “It helps prevent breakdowns,” says Saffels. “We can perform predictive maintenance, allowing us to be better prepared for breakdowns or service disruptions.”

Finally, the Trihedral SCADA system provides remote control capability to start and stop pumps, adjust tank levels, and open and close valves to the distribution system. Well flow, tank flow to the distribution system, tank levels, system pressures, pre- and post-tank free chlorine residual, system intrusion alarms, auxiliary generator status, and power supply status are all closely monitored. Saffels especially likes the pre-alarm on lift stations, which notifies staff members and lets them respond before an alarm actually goes off and disturbs neighbors.

Ample innovation

Saffels, who has been at Plant City for 43 years, is passionate about his staff: “They’re amazing, with holistic approaches and the desire to be No. 1 in all aspects of operations and treatment. They’re dedicated to excellence and conscientiousness. The recognition our facilities have received from the various organizations and regulatory agencies demonstrates this.”
Staff members take ownership of the facilities and are involved in system improvements. Saffels points out a recent innovative idea that has saved lots of headaches, aggravation and potential fines.

“The waste cleanup rule of the Florida Administrative Code is activated when a spill is reported to the state watch office or the Bureau of Emergency Response,” he says. Since a sodium hypochlorite spill of 85 gallons or more is a reportable quantity, the maintenance staff adjusted the chemical handling system to prevent such spills. The old chlorine line was belowground, and as the chemicals caused the PVC to break down, they would leak into the ground.

“Kudos to maintenance for solving that,” says Saffels. “They ran a solid one-piece chlorine feed line through the 2-inch carrier piping from the containment centers for the bleach tanks to the injection points, basically making a double-walled piping. With the injection point being higher than the containment, if there is a leak in the chlorine feed line, it will flow back through the carrier piping to the containment point, instead of spilling into the ground.”

Facing challenges

That’s just one example of problem-solving at Plant City. “Due to the age of our systems, we are finding it harder to obtain parts,” says Saffels. “All of the wells have different electrical and mechanical parts, so keeping an inventory on hand is not economically feasible. To resolve that, we have established capital improvement projects to update our pumping, electrical and SCADA systems and are currently in the design phase.”

Changes in regulations are another challenge. Plant City has responded by focusing on its sweet spot: staff training. “To help keep up with rule changes, we have established a budget to provide formal training through seminars, conferences and the various trade magazines we receive,” says Saffels. “We also do in-house discussions on our systems operations and compliance needs during our shift turnovers.”

Communication is key. “As superintendent, I’ve always maintained an open-door policy and invite anyone to come in to discuss their concerns,” says Saffels. “There have been very few instances where I have been forced to ask someone, ‘Can this wait until later?’”

Plant City is an award winner with an impeccable record of compliance, committed to training and communications. In short, says Saffels, “It’s a good place to work.”

Conserving water

Even though Plant City draws its water from the plentiful Floridan Aquifer, water conservation is important in the state. Observers point out that Florida’s growing population and varying rainfall mean that water usage often outpaces replacement.

On its website, Plant City reminds citizens that 50 percent or more of the water used at the average Florida home is for outdoor irrigation. The city maintains an outdoor irrigation schedule and restrictions designed to support healthy landscapes while avoiding waste.

The city also advises residents to use garden hoses, hose-end sprinklers and garden hose timers to target specific areas, especially for small lawns. Regulations require “smart” irrigation systems that shut off during periods of sufficient moisture.

In its water conservation tips section, the website suggests residents check for leaks in toilets, faucets and showerheads. Lawn watering recommendations include placing empty cans in the sprinkled areas to monitor how much water is being used. A 1/2 or 3/4 inch of water is sufficient for most of the state’s sandy soils. The city offers free garden hose and indoor water-saving kits, as well as rain barrels.

The city’s 10 mgd water reclamation facility produces clean effluent that can be used for commercial and industrial applications and to irrigate orange groves, lawns and nurseries.


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