Single-Minded Terry L. Huber Sees His Facility Through a Host of Changes

Terry L. Huber applies reasoned approach and long experience to ensure clean water for residents in his role as supervisor of the Lima Water Treatment Plant.

Single-Minded Terry L. Huber Sees His Facility Through a Host of Changes

Huber with Emily Kerber, lab technician, sample for a water hardness test in the high-service pump room. 

If there’s one quality that describes Terry L. Huber, it’s “thoughtful.” His boss and co-workers at the Lima (Ohio) Water Treatment Plant will tell you that he might not give quick answers to questions, but the answers will be well-considered.

Such single-mindedness has helped Huber guide the 30 mgd facility through numerous changes. In 23 years as supervisor, he has taught scores of operators while playing a major role in industry associations and providing safe drinking water to the 38,000 residents of Lima, in northwestern Ohio. Along the way, he has built an award-winning career, earning accolades throughout the region.

Thinker and friend

Steve Backus, a maintenance mechanic and Class III water and wastewater operator, observes, “If you ask him something, he’ll think about the issue and then give you an answer that’ll work. And if you need something, he’ll get it for you. That’s what makes him such a good boss.”

Tessa Caprella, Class I lead operator, has worked for Huber since joining the Water Treatment and Supply Division 13 years ago and sees him as a mentor, a great boss, and good friend. “People respect Terry because he knows so much about the water business. He weighs his words carefully because he always wants to make sure he’s clear and gives you the right advice so you can do your job.”

His brothers — former and present water division employees — agree that in Huber’s 39-year city career, his penchant for thinking carefully before making decisions has been a major asset. Twin brother Larry Huber, manager of Utility Field Services, observes, “Of course, I’m biased, but Terry is really my better half. He’s knowledgeable, disciplined and a great guy to work with.” Younger brother Jack Huber adds, “It’s been a blessing having worked with Terry and Larry.”

Multifaceted role

Recognizing his accomplishments, the Northwest Ohio Section American Water Works Association presented Terry Huber with the 2017 Operator Meritorious Treatment Award for consistent and outstanding contributions to water plant operations and maintenance, installation of new equipment, and training of operators.

The Lima website notes, “At times he might not say much, but when he does you had better listen. During his tenure at the plant Terry has been instrumental in many improvements, from changing shifts to be more operator-friendly to becoming more efficient by going from 24 employees to 14.”

Huber comments, “I was very surprised to have won the award.” He grew up on a farm in Bluffton, a village of 4,100 about 15 miles north of Lima, with three brothers and two sisters. He graduated from Bluffton High School and took science, chemistry, and botany classes at the Ohio State University. “Water has been a very good, stable career for me over the last 39 years,” he says. “There are great people to work with, and the other operators are always ready and willing to help out.”

Up the ladder

Huber’s career began in late 1978 when he and Jack Huber passed the civil service test. Terry Huber began as a construction maintenance specialist in the Water Supply Division working on reservoirs, pumps and other equipment. In the early 1980s, he began working out of the water treatment plant, the latest version of which came online in 1963. Eventually, he earned his Class IV (highest) water treatment certification and moved into operations. In January 1995 he became water plant supervisor and now leads a staff of 14.

In the last four years, Huber has overseen the building of a 5.9-billion-gallon reservoir, a new pump station, a 1.5-million-gallon elevated water tank, and a $14 million plant upgrade in 2012 that added granular activated carbon filters and clearwell water storage. To reduce costs, Huber and his team did all the electrical work, added a generator, and installed generators at locations including the water towers, the Field Service and Customer Service division headquarters, and at reservoir pump stations.

Lima’s water plant receives raw water from five reservoirs. Water from the 113-mile-long Auglaize River fills the 4.9-billion-gallon Bresler Lake Reservoir and the new 5.9-billion-gallon Williams Reservoir. A complex consisting of the Ferguson, Metzger and Lost Creek reservoirs is filled from the Ottawa River, a tributary of the Auglaize. The complex holds about 4 billion gallons. 

At the treatment plant, which processes an average of 16 mgd, sodium permanganate and activated carbon are added to the raw water for taste and odor control. After primary and secondary treatment and filtration, the water is chlorinated and fluoridated, and a second polyphosphate is added to enhance stability in the distribution system. It then flows into clearwells for storage and is pumped to meet the city’s water needs.

“Our water quality has been very good since we put in the granulated activated carbon filtration six years ago,” Huber says. “It really polishes the water. At church recently, someone who had complained about the water over the years told me ‘I can drink all the water now.’ That was gratifying.”

Strengthening operations

Mike Caprella, director of utilities, credits Huber with improvements in plant operations. Caprella, a 50-year employee who was plant supervisor in the mid-1970s, praises him for keeping up with all the technological changes of the last four decades and keeping current on increasingly rigorous U.S. EPA rules and regulations.

“I’ve worked with him since the day he came aboard in 1979,” Caprella says. “Terry is a wonderful guy and a fine leader. He’s a quiet, focused person and sure knows how to run the water treatment plant. He’s worked his way up, so he understands the maintenance side. He knows operations, having been an operator. As a supervisor for some time, he has figured out the management part.”

Throughout the changes, Huber has remained dedicated to the task, a fact not lost on Tim Williams, assistant water treatment plant supervisor, who has worked for Huber since 2015: “Terry is business-minded and likes to thinks things over, which really calms me down when things get crazy around here. Terry was my teacher at advanced water treatment courses I took in 1999. He was so thorough; if he didn’t know an answer right then, he’d find out and tell us the next time the class met.”

In typical fashion, Huber brushes off the praise and concentrates on the plant. He gets in at about 7:30 in the morning and meets with Williams. Together, they review what went on during the night shift, then turn to the tasks for the coming day and hand out job assignments. These can include routine maintenance like lawn mowing and equipment repair; addressing EPA rules on testing for algae, lead, and copper; and developing contingency plans to boost process efficiencies. They’ve also written specifications to replace the water plant SCADA system, a $1 million program.

Fulfillment in teaching

When not working on plant business, Huber is active with the state AWWA section. Over the years, he has served as Northwest District chairman, vice chairman and post-chairman. He has also been involved in state and national AWWA conventions and various workshops. He convinced brother Larry Huber to serve as district chairman and had two employees become AWWA section officers. Brother Jack Huber got involved with the national AWWA, attended meetings and worked on environmental affairs.

Terry Huber also has supported AWWA’s Top Ops contest, a college bowl-style competition for the water industry. Lima operators and lab personnel have been on the Northwest District team representing Ohio at the AWWA Annual Conference & Exposition.

Then there’s Huber’s commitment to developing the next generation of water operators. He has taught advanced water treatment courses for the Operator Training Committee of Ohio for 28 years. Over that time, his course, and those in water distribution, asset management, and collection taught by his brothers, have helped scores of operators earn professional certifications and move up in the field. Huber sees these classes as “giving back to an industry that has been good to me and my family.”

With an industry tenure approaching 40 years, Huber keeps an open mind about retiring: “Sure, I plan to retire from the city someday. It’s kind of a day-by-day thing; I may retire 15 years from now or in the next few months. Right now, I’m happy to be working here, serving Lima and its residents, and providing the best water we can.”

107 years and counting

Terry Huber is proud that he and his two brothers have a combined 107 years of experience in the water industry. With more than 39 years, Terry Huber has the longest service.

Larry Huber has 33 years and is manager of Utility Field Services, whose 37 employees maintain 500 miles of water main, 250 miles of sewer lines, 8,000 valves, 1,200 fire hydrants, 24,000 water meters, and 15,000 sewer connections. He now oversees a $10 million advanced metering infrastructure project.

Jack Huber worked for the Sewer Collection Division and retired in 2013 after 34 years with the City of Lima.

Terry Huber observes, “It was great working with my brothers all those years. We knew what each other needed and communicated well, and that benefitted us and the city.”

The brothers agree that growing up on a farm outside nearby Bluffton taught them the value of hard work and gave them a familiarity with machinery, helpful in dealing with water plant equipment. Terry and Larry Huber still own a farm where they grow corn, soybeans, and wheat and raise a few steers.

Huber-OTCO: Win-win connection

The Huber brothers — Terry, Larry and Jack — have distinguished themselves in the water industry while making names for themselves as teachers who have developed generations of water, wastewater, and collection operators through the Operator Training Committee of Ohio.

OTCO is a nonprofit vocational program formed in 1947 under the Ohio Department of Health to do water and wastewater training, which schools at that time were not providing. Today, that’s all OTCO does. If the EPA needs help with training, it turns to OTCO for help.

Eighty to 90 percent of those taking OTCO courses are already employed and need certification to keep their jobs or move up the operator ranks. The organization’s approach is to make comprehensive training available to produce well-informed, technically qualified operators who are firmly grounded in the fundamentals — not just to train people to pass exams.

For 29 years, Larry Huber has taught water distribution, asset management, backflow and collection classes. With a Class II certification in distribution and collection, he believes the courses “help operators grow, which in turn benefits them and those they serve.” Terry Huber has taught basic and advanced water treatment courses for nearly as long as Larry Huber. Jack Huber taught collection courses starting in 2000. He retired from the City of Lima in 2013 but still teaches some courses.

“They’re excellent guys who have really supported our mission,” observes Curtis Truss, OTCO executive director. “I’ve been here for 28 years, and the Hubers were teaching courses before I got here. They have changed people’s lives by doing so. They put their hearts and souls into it.”

In the late 1980s and 1990s, a typical water course covered 60 hours and ran for 20 weeks. Today, courses usually are 42 hours; instructors use video and online training to supplement the coursework. Still, OTCO sees the difference teachers like the Huber brothers make.

“We try to get people who are as passionate as Larry, Terry and Jack,” Truss says. “They don’t teach for the money or for the recognition; they do it because they want to give back. Nothing warms my heart more than when someone walks up to me and says, ‘I’m director of this water treatment plant, and that’s because back in the 1980s you pushed me along and gave my career a boost.’ That’s why we’re so grateful to the Hubers.”


Comments on this site are submitted by users and are not endorsed by nor do they reflect the views or opinions of COLE Publishing, Inc. Comments are moderated before being posted.