The Craigsville Water Plant Team Pulls Together to Tackle Challenges and Steadily Improve the Process

Dealing with a tint from an unknown source is just one example of how the Craigsville team experiments and adapts its way to quality water.

The Craigsville Water Plant Team Pulls Together to Tackle Challenges and Steadily Improve the Process

The Craigsville plant uses a combination of manual and automated controls. The distribution pumps and pressure relief valves are automated.

Anyone can see the main challenge confronting the team at the Craigsville (West Virginia) Public Service District. It’s the red-tinted water that comes down the Gauley River toward the plant intake.

“I can treat high-turbidity water. I can treat 300 NTU easier than I can treat four units of this stuff,” says Lundy C. Bailey, chief operator and Class 3 water operator. Many people have opinions about the source of the red water, but no one has proof of what causes it.

Much of the water just upstream of the Craigsville intake comes from the Monongahela National Forest. Some say the red tint is a byproduct of logging in the backcountry. Others say it comes from the marshes upstream.

“I’m leaning to think it’s due to heavy rains in the headwaters of the river,” he says. “I feel that water overflows from those marshes and runs down the tributaries of the Gauley.” Other operators farther upstream on the Gauley don’t experience the red water, and years ago the red tint wasn’t present at Craigsville.

Most of the time the Gauley is clean: Raw water has only 2 to 3 NTU. Under disinfection byproduct controls, his team has learned to treat a little higher to remove more turbidity. They use DelPAC (USALCO) for coagulation at 13 mg/L. They could drop to 8 mg/L, but the extra 5 mg/L adds some insurance in case heavier rains bring turbidity spikes.

“To learn to treat it was hard because we’d do a jar test and everything we did on the jar test says it should work, but the basin wouldn’t do what the jar shows,” Bailey says. “So we finally went to the settings we use. The floc will have a pretty gold tint to it and it will look like you have mashed potatoes, but by the time it runs through the spiral in the sedimentation basin, it will drop right out.” 

Older, yet modern

The Craigsville plant is both old and new. The machinery is manual. “We can even backwash with 8-inch valves that we turn by hand,” Bailey says. But the telemetry is all automated, some on a satellite link and some through the cellular phone network. The distribution pumps and pressure relief valves are automated.

When the plant is running, it starts the in-line pressure booster to fill the main storage tank, and that triggers a second pump to maintain water pressure at higher elevations, up to 400 feet above the plant. SCADA equipment (AGM, Trimble, High Tide Technologies) provides real-time data from the system. The plant runs 13 to 15 hours per day.

From watching service technicians, Bailey’s team has learned to solve some SCADA system problems. Now the team keeps an inventory of parts, such as transducers and data handlers, so they can service the equipment themselves.

The plant feeds water not only to Craigsville, but also to nearby Camden-on-Gauley, about a mile upstream on the river. When that community rebuilt its distribution system a few years ago, the project included a new 6-inch PVC feed line that comes directly to the Craigsville plant and supplies the entire Camden-on-Gauley system. Typical demand is 12,000 to 15,000 gpd for Camden-on-Gauley. Flows are 810,000 gpd design/500,00 gpd average. Average production is 450,000 gpd and 15,000 gpd for Camden-on-Gauley.

Inside operations

At the Gauley River, there is a gravity feed through a 10-inch line to a 24-foot deep well containing two raw water pumps (Wilo USA and Pentair Water - Hydromatic). Only one runs at a time; the other serves as a backup.

The pumps feed the sedimentation basin by way of a chemical injection pit. The pit can feed chlorine, aluminum sulfate, soda ash and the DelPAC. If the alkalinity is too low, the team can add sodium bicarbonate through the soda ash line. A tap in the pit feeds raw water to the lab on the second floor of the building.

The sedimentation basin holds about 50,000 gallons. A single mixer there is needed only when the raw water exceeds 14 NTU. Detention time is about 1 hour and 20 minutes before the water reaches the rapid sand filters. As water gravity feeds to the clearwell, there is pH adjustment and chlorine adjustment. A low chlorine residual in the basin reduces disinfection byproducts. Another feed line sends water to the lab for continuous chlorine monitoring.

More capacity coming

The original water plan design was 250 gpm; that’s when there were only about 400 customers. Upgrades over the years increased pumping capacity from 400,000 to 800,000 gpd, but the capacity of the sedimentation basin, clearwell, and other treatment components were not increased.

“We’re in the process right now of preparing for a new water system,” Bailey says. “They’re going to build us a 900 gpm plant.” It will include a new sedimentation basin, new filters, a new clearwell, and a new 2,500-square-foot building to hold the filters and the lab. The plan is to open the new plant by fall 2020.

A field on the existing plant site is large enough to accommodate the new plant. The existing building will become the pump station for the new system. “I actually planned on retiring this coming April, but I’m going to hang on a little longer,” Bailey says. He wants to wait until the new plant is open.

The engineering firm designing the plant talked extensively to the Craigsville team, so the new facility will be set up in a way that makes sense to the operators.

The Craigsville team includes:

  • Kristina Ward, Class 4 operator, who also handles data management
  • Jerry Fazenbaker and Mark Jackson, Class 2 operators 
  • John Crites, outside crew foreman and holder of a water distribution license
  • Ernie Gardner (water distribution license) and Danny Russell, outside workers 
  • Gary Robinson, general manager.

“This group of operators — and the way everybody gets along and can flex their schedules to help other workers — it’s a very good group of people,” Bailey says.

 All about clean

Bailey received the West Virginia American Water Works Association’s 2017 Perkins-Boynton Award for exemplary water plant operation ability and desire to increase knowledge of water treatment (category for systems serving more than 3,300 people). As Bailey tells it, it was a matter of solving a set of problems.

When he took over as chief operator, the plant was exceeding its limits on disinfection byproducts. To fix the problem, Bailey began working with the state’s district engineer, Chris Farrish.

“He likes doing studies, and we would go through every study he wanted us to,” Bailey says.

They began cleaning the sedimentation basin four times a year. There are no rakes in the basin; it needs to be cleaned manually after draining. Disinfection byproducts are generated when chlorine contacts organic matter: “If you have 2 or 3 feet of organic sludge in your sedimentation basin, you’re doing nothing but creating disinfection byproducts.” 

Another result of more frequent basin cleaning is that less chlorine is needed because there is less organic matter to treat. The plant now does robotic cleaning of the clearwell and one of the tanks. Once the cleaning is done, the team will drain about half the water from a tank through hydrants until the water matches the pH and other measurements at the plant. Then the system will be refilled with freshwater.

Customers then have freshwater instead of water that’s two or three weeks old, and the flushing helps reduce disinfection byproduct generation. It’s just another way the Craigsville team collaborates to deliver a high-quality product.

Operators wanted

When Lundy C. Bailey talks about the future of the Craigsville water plant, he also talks about the future staff. Almost the entire staff is nearing retirement. Bailey counts off the people — this person could leave in five years, another has two years.

“Me, I could go within the year,” Bailey says. Usually that would spur a recruiting effort, but Bailey faces a problem: “There’s nobody interested in it.”

A woman from a neighboring community had her training at Craigsville and donated her training hours to the plant, but she is now a licensed operator in the neighboring community.

Small districts have the work, but they don’t have the funds to pay an operator in training to sit with the experienced people in a plant. “In West Virginia,” Bailey says, “there’s a great shortage of operators.”


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