Teamwork and Automation Driver Award-Winning Performance in a Pennsylvania Water Plant

A strong team backed by automation helps a Pennsylvania plant win and sustain Phase III Directors Award status in the Partnership for Safe Water.

Teamwork and Automation Driver Award-Winning Performance in a Pennsylvania Water Plant

The West Shore plant team, includes, from left, Jim Shotto, plant operator; Cyril Weakland, maintenance/relief operator; Jon Prawdzik, operations superintendent; Joe Miller and Ryan Troutman, production supervisors; and Eric Gentzler, relief operator/maintenance.

It’s a big achievement for a water treatment plant to earning the Partnership for Safe Water Phase III Directors Award. It’s even bigger more so when plant operators face continuously changing source water quality.

The team at the West Shore Regional Water Treatment Plant in New Cumberland, Pennsylvania, is up to that challenge.

“Many people were involved in generating the data, compiling it on a monthly basis and making sure it was accurate,” says Jon Prawdzik, operations superintendent. “Our SCADA engineer and three operators were key in this effort. Also, our operators are the first ones to see the effects of source water quality changes, and they alert us so we can sit down as a team and discuss treatment improvements.”

System upgrades over the past few years have made life easier for the operations staff, says Robert “Ryan” Troutman, production supervisor: “We revamped our control systems in 2015 and have taken our fledgling footsteps into a fully automated operation as of June 2017.”

Optimizing Treatment

Raw water turbidity from Yellow Breeches Creek averages 5 to 10 NTU but can be as high as 500 NTU during heavy rainfalls. Finished water quality is excellent, at 0.03 to 0.05 NTU.

The 12 mgd (design) West Shore plant was commissioned in 2006 and is owned and operated by Pennsylvania American Water. It serves a population of 98,000 (39,000 customers) in the boroughs of Camp Hill, Lemoyne, New Cumberland, Fairview, Shiremanstown, and Wormleysburg and the townships of East Pennsboro, Hampden, Lower Allen, Upper Allen, Newberry, and Silver Spring.

The plant signed on to the Partnership for Safe Water program 10 years ago. It received the Directors Award in 2012 and in 2017 was recognized for maintaining that status for five years. Prawdzik and Troutman attribute much of the plant’s success to SCADA system programming and operator diligence.

“SCADA controls engineer Steve Hoke has programmed the system so operators can track data and adjust parameters such as pH and coagulation,” Prawdzik says. Troutman adds, “The operators are the ones monitoring the facility 24/7 to make sure it runs the best it can, and they are very proud of the plant.”

Optimizing treatment is a team effort. “The operations and water quality staffs, together, review our water quality data on a routine basis,” Troutman says. “We hold operator meetings, especially after critical events. Getting everyone involved early to accurately assess what is going on — and keeping everyone in the loop so they can offer advice — has been crucial to our success.”

Will the plant go after the Phase IV Directors Award? “We qualify, but we will have to further examine the data,” Prawdzik says. “It’s a big commitment to get to that level. But, we’ll be taking a look at funding and also the regulations.”

Improving technology

Raw water is pumped to the plant with Peerless Pump 500 hp vertical turbine pumps (Grundfos Pumps). “The West Shore plant and 8 mgd Silver Springs plant operate together, pumping from opposite ends of the distribution system toward the center to fill five storage tanks located throughout our service area,” Troutman says.  

Treatment is by conventional filtration with four Superpulsator clarifiers (SUEZ) and five granular activated carbon filters. Ferric chloride polymer is added as the primary coagulant. The treated water is disinfected with chlorine gas, and ammonia is added for chloramination.

The water is then sent to a 1.5-million-gallon clearwell and pumped to the distribution system by three Floway 500 hp high-service vertical turbine pumps. The average plant flow is 7.5 to 8.0 mgd. Operators perform wet chemistry and process sampling tests in the plant’s state-accredited microbiology laboratory.

The plant has undergone several improvements. A 2013 study on high-service pump efficiency led to an upgrade the following year. “We refurbished two variable frequency-drive pumps and added a VFD to the third pump to increase reliability and efficiency in case Pump 1 or Pump 2 were to go out of service,” Prawdzik says.

Installed in 2005, the pumps were not operating near the manufacturer’s expected efficiencies. After refurbishing, operating efficiency increased from 60 percent to 73 percent, while energy usage decreased, saving some $38,000 per year.

A SCADA upgrade in 2015 has also enhanced operations; it consists of an Allen-Bradley controller, a Rockwell Automation PLC, and ICONICS Genesis64 software. Previously, the plant had an older SCADA system, but the operators manually maintained the flows and chemical addition. Now, 90 percent of the operation is controlled by SCADA.

“The new system is more user-friendly,” Prawdzik says. “The operators were able to offer input about what the setpoints should be because some of them have been here for many years.” The SCADA system also regulates the distribution pressure and monitors the amount of finished water sent to distribution.

Automating the plant

Troutman says the operators’ greatest success so far was getting the automation off the ground: “That took six months of planning and was then implemented in stages. First it was our high-service pumps operating on pressure to meet system demands. Next we implemented flow control on our low-service pumps. The final stage was to implement coagulation doses and pH adjustments based on real-time turbidity data.”

The staged implementation allowed staff members to carefully monitor each part until they were confident in the process and could move on to the next one. “It all worked very smoothly, which I attribute to the dedication of Steve Hoke and our operators,” Troutman says.

Hoke adds, “The decision to do high-service, then-raw water, then chemical-feed pumps, and finally the filter pumps was based on importance, the scope of implementation, and the ability to test and easily convert the SCADA system code.”

The operators’ greatest ongoing challenge is dealing with source water changes. “Our watershed is changing, and being able to diagnose conditions as they come up is key,” Troutman says. “Both management and the operators work closely together to get through these events.”

During rainstorms, agricultural runoff can increase source water turbidity from 10 NTU to as high as 500 NTU in as little as 45 minutes. Plant automation has helped. Prawdzik observes, “Since the computer is adjusting chemical levels based on raw water turbidity, if other issues come up during the storm that need operator attention, they know that the SCADA is handling things.”

A winning team

Troutman had a major hand in building the West Shore plant: “I was working for Allan Myers, an industrial contractor who was building the facility in 2004. I was part of the mechanical crew involved in construction.

“When I started, the plant was literally a hole in the ground, and I stayed on that job during construction, startup, and well after startup.” He saw an opportunity to apply for an operator’s position. “Now, 10 years later, I am the production supervisor, and I’m grateful for all the opportunities I was afforded by working hard for a great company.”

Besides Troutman (Class A license), Prawdzik (Class A, 10 years), and Hoke (11 years), the plant team includes:

  • Shawn Wiley, water quality supervisor (Class A, 2 years).
  • Class A operators James Shotto (11 years) and Winn Jones (8 years).
  • Adam Jamaleddine, operator (1 year).
  • Relief operators Eric Gentzler (Class A, 5 years) and Cyril Weakland (2 years).

The relief operators also perform routine maintenance. Wiley’s responsibilities include day-to-day management of personnel and multiple operations to continually meet all water quality and Clean Water Act requirements. He also provides technical support on water quality, treatment, permitting, laboratory management and regulatory compliance issues.

The operators and relief operators report to Troutman. All staff members are located at the plant except for Prawdzik, who is based at the Mechanicsburg Operations Center, where he oversees all south-central Pennsylvania systems.

Ready for the long haul

Team members often go above and beyond to solve a problem or increase efficiency. For example, operators Shotto and Jones were crucial in providing feedback during the initial phases of automation. “They routinely provided insight into the automation process,” Prawdzik says. “That allowed our team to fine-tune water treatment and helped ensure a smooth transition.”

Troutman doesn’t foresee any upgrades in the next few years: “Even though the area is growing, our pumping has decreased because we’ve eliminated leaks. An ongoing focus by Pennsylvania American Water to minimize water loss, through infrastructure replacement and leak detection logging, has made a big difference.”

While plant operation always poses challenges, Troutman is confident that the team will meet them head-on. “It takes a special kind of person to work holidays and overtime. When critical weather events or mechanical malfunctions occur, our operators step up. They take their job to heart, and I am fortunate to have people who care as much as they do.”

Surviving “Snowmageddon”

Operators at the West Shore Regional Water Treatment Plant have worked in some nasty weather. A blizzard in January 2016 dumped 30 inches of snow; Cyril Weakland and Eric Gentzler were snowed in at the plant from Thursday evening until Sunday.

Weakland recalls, “It was important for me to focus on the fact that, even though I didn’t want to be stuck at work for an unknown length of time, there were still customers depending on me to produce clean, safe drinking water. Some of these included my own family and friends.”

Support from Robert “Ryan” Troutman, production supervisor, helped: “He checked in and expressed his appreciation for my hard work and dedication to the company, which helped me maintain perspective.”

Weakland also appreciated having Gentzler there. “He shared the load and discomfort of an unnaturally long stay in one place. His teamwork and willingness to help allowed me to get some much-needed sleep in between shifts. That kept me vigilant and dedicated to my role.”

Gentzler was stoic: “I personally didn’t find it all that arduous. As far as coping, some warm food and coffee kept me content. I broke up the long hours with snow shoveling, which of course was also practical. I just looked at it as any other shift, only longer. By the time it was over, I had been there for 32 hours.”


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