The Great Lakes Water Authority's Newest Water Plant Rises From the Bones of the Oldest One

Continuous self-assessment and improvement steer a Michigan authority’s newest water plant to a Directors Award from the Partnership for Safe Water.

The Great Lakes Water Authority's Newest Water Plant Rises From the Bones of the Oldest One

Cheryl Porter, chief operating officer, and her team take pride in delivering water of exceptional quality and in earning the Directors Award from the Partnership for Safe Water.

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The newest of the Great Lakes Water Authority’s five water treatment plants operates in the oldest building. It is also the latest of four to earn a Directors Award from the Partnership for Safe Water.

The 240 mgd (design) Water Works Park II plant opened in 2003. Technology innovation enabled the authority to combine its entire conventional treatment process (with ozone disinfection) in a single building, as opposed to several buildings previously.

The authority provides water and wastewater services to some 4 million people in 112 member partner communities in eight southeast Michigan counties. With five water treatment facilities that draw water from Lake Huron and the Detroit River, the authority has capacity to extend service to other communities in its region.

The authority invests in protection of its water and in collaboration between many universities and foundations. Through partnerships with universities, students work with the authority to conduct research focused on drinking water monitoring and treatment. This is one of many ways in which the authority makes sure finished water quality surpasses federal and state standards.

Strategic deployment

The water plants are geographically located and the system is designed so that if any one plant is having issues, one or two others are available to meet demand, according to Cheryl Porter, chief operating officer for Water and Field Services. The Lake Huron, Northeast and Southwest water facilities have also earned Partnership Directors Award status, which entails a rigorous, four-phase self-assessment and peer review process developed by water utility optimization experts. 

“One thing we like about the Partnership for Safe Water is that it allows us to continuously improve,” Porter observes. “To make sure we deliver water of unquestionable quality, we always want mechanisms in place that drive us toward better and more stringent internal standards, beyond just meeting regulatory requirements. The Partnership for Safe Water is an excellent mechanism that allows us to do self-assessment and continually monitor ourselves in comparison with our peers.”

Water Works Park has been a source of pride for southeast Michigan since 1879. It served as the first branch of the Detroit Public Library and was an architectural marvel with its minaretlike stone tower rising 185 feet in the air. The park was the site of Detroit’s original pumping station. Additions were made in 1886 and 1903 as Detroit expanded; the high-lift pump station was built on the grounds in 1914.

Chlorine disinfection began in 1913, and fluoridation was added in 1962. Today, Water Works Park is the authority’s most modern producer of drinking water, operating around the clock every day of the year.

Making the old new

The key challenge in recreating Water Works Park was installing a new process on an existing treatment site. That also presented great opportunity. The facility uses conventional treatment but with the addition of midstream ozonation. “A unique feature of Water Works Park is it has expandable capacity,” Porter says. “It is designed for 240 mgd, but we have infrastructure in place to upgrade easily to 320 mgd.” Average flow is about 90 mgd.

While the old treatment facility included half a dozen buildings, each housing a particular process phase, the plant today houses the entire process in one building. Three changes in technology made that possible:

  • Changing from chlorine to ozonation (WEDECO) for primary disinfection.
  • Changing the floc-sedimentation basins and converting to plate settling to speed up clarification.
  • Replacing conventional gravel-sand-anthracite filters with deep-bed mono-media anthracite filters (Leopold - a Xylem Brand).

“Midstream ozonation gives us better response to taste and odor while providing the strongest disinfectant against microbial contaminants such as Giardia and Cryptosporidium,” Porter says. “It also avoids the creation of disinfection byproducts.”

The floc-sedimentation process now includes six parallel basins, any of which can be taken out of service for maintenance without reducing treatment capacity. Seventy-eight conventional filters were replaced by a dozen monomedia filters (Leopold - a Xylem Brand), “which are actually more effective and give us lower NTU than we had been getting,” Porter says. The filters include instrumentation that triggers backwashing at a pressure differential or NTU setpoint and can be programmed based on the season.

Making water

The Water Works Park facility draws water from the Detroit River. Two raw water tunnels come in: one dedicated to the facility and the second feeding two other water plants. The raw water passes through US Filter traveling screens (Evoqua Water Technologies) at the Screenhouse and Low-Lift Pumping Station.

Four low-lift pumps (Cascade Pump) raise water to the facility’s operational level. Aluminum sulfate coagulant is added; polymer can also be introduced in case of unusual raw water turbidity. After flash mixing, the water is sent to the three-phase flocculators. The floc then comes in contact with the plate settlers; clearwater is drawn off the top.

Finished water from the floc-sedimentation basins goes to the ozonation contactors and then to filtration. Fluoride is introduced, phosphoric acid is added for corrosion control, and chlorine is dosed to maintain a suitable residual in the transmission and distribution systems. High-lift pumps (De Laval) send the water in the distribution system from the reservoirs.

Detroit River water is relatively consistent except that turbidity can spike during turnover seasons in spring and fall, according to Andrae Savage, plant manager. Raw water turbidity in the past 20 years has ranged from as low as 6 NTU to as high as 125 NTU (during turnovers). Finished water turbidity consistently registers below 0.10 NTU.

Keeping it running

The plant staff includes 30 people including operators, maintenance people and chemists. Afternoon and midnight shifts include a supervisor, two water technicians and a chemist.

The team includes:

  • Operations team leaders Victor Vecsernyes, Shannon Williams, Jeffrey Jones and Dwayne Smoth
  • Water technicians Douglas Boatwright, Brian Carter, Jonathan Harper, Abidon Kayode, Melissa Willis, Rodney Patten, Vance Carter and Clarence Hayes
  • Chemists Yao Kouassi (team leader), Abul Ahmed, Kevin Haywood, Jessica Melrose, Jessica Hayes and Wajid Khan
  • Maintenance team leaders Brandon Ross and Reginald Bryant; and technicians Xavier Bolton, Mark Elswick, Brad Gradowski, Reginald Woodson and Reginald Hammond
  • Electrical instrumentation control technicians Leonard Fleming, Jackie Hunt, Etaune Johnson and Yolanda Presley
  • Engineer Michael Dunne
  • Donna Jackson, office support specialist

Training is a top priority. “Along with making sure we have a safe work environment, we want our people to be well aware of the educational materials we have available through our American Water Works Association membership,” Porter says. “A person who is particularly enthusiastic about a given subject can dig deeper into it. We have basic training for chemists and operators to help them acquire state certifications.”

Instrumentation helps drive the process. In addition to the filter control automation, it includes turbidimeters (Hach), streaming current detectors (Chemtrac) and chlorine analyzers (Hach). “We also do benchtop testing for any chemical we’re dosing,” Savage says. “In the lab there is parallel monitoring by our chemists on a 24/7 basis. We don’t just rely on our in-line instrumentation. We confirm that with actual analysis in the laboratory. We analyze parameters from every hour to every four hours depending on the test. This is done around the clock.”

In his role, Savage works constantly to bolster and sustain morale. “I let them see me, and I engage them in conversation, whether it’s about the job or how their day is going,” he says. “I show concern. If they need parts or supplies, I make sure they get them. As long as you show interest in what they’re doing and demonstrate that you care, morale stays up.”

Staying safe

An active safety committee works to identify and remove hazards. It includes maintenance and operations team members, chemists and representatives from the Water Quality and Safety Teams. “We encourage the team members to participate,” Savage says. “They meet every fourth Wednesday. The committee also performs monthly walk-throughs to check for any safety violations or potential unsafe conditions.

“Also, we have a Working Safe program. When we see a team member working safely, we take a picture and give it to our Public Affairs Group. They place the picture on a community board. Whenever we get anything positive from our safety committee, we let the team know at the monthly plant meetings.”

Maintaining a quality workforce is an ongoing challenge. As part of its response, the authority has three apprenticeship programs:

  • A three-year, 10-month program for maintenance technicians that began in January 2019.
  • A three-year program for electrical instrument control technicians that launched in June 2017.
  • A program for electricians launching in 2020.

An apprenticeship program for water plant operators is on the drawing board. The authority has committed to standing up one new apprenticeship per year until all of its critical staffing needs are met.

Looking to the future

Those programs alone are not enough. “We have to get better at training people faster,” Porter notes. “We’re looking at various training tools and techniques that will allow us to document the information from those who have been here the longest, and make sure that knowledge is captured and can be reviewed, so that the new people coming in can leverage it.

“One thing that is unique to the water sector is that the people are very committed to public health and safety. We’ve had a number of team members delay their retirements in order to pass on their knowledge. It speaks highly of an organization when people are so committed that they stick around and say, ‘I’m going to make this easier for the next generation.’”

In addition, standard operating procedures are being captured in video form to make them easily accessible. “That way, people can view it at their leisure and experience the complexity and greater detail that can be captured on video,” Porter says. “We’re trying to figure out how to roll it out so that each facility has that resource available.”

Another key challenge is dealing with water demand far below the treatment plants’ collective 1.7 bgd capacity. “Right now we’re seeing average demands about 600 mgd,” Porter says. “That is forcing us to think about how to right-size our system.”

As for the Directors Award from the Partnership for Safe Water, that required a self-assessment of the treatment process; instrumentation; safety, operational and maintenance protocols; and more. Porter observes, “To have four of our five plants move beyond day-to-day requirements to optimize operations so they can be recognized with such a program, that speaks well for our team members. I’m very proud that we have the kind of operators who are willing to make that extra commitment.”

Down the pipeline

Besides operating five water treatment facilities, the Great Lakes Water Authority is responsible for transmission of finished water up to member partner communities’ wholesale metered connections.

As a practical matter, the authority reaches even further. “We strive not only to produce water of unquestionable quality, but to be the service provider of choice for our partners,” says Cheryl Porter, chief operating officer for Water and Field Services. “In those efforts, we provide additional assistance to them.

“We have been a part of the lead and copper issue. As a wholesaler, we don’t have lead service lines, but we offer our assistance in that area. We see it as something that’s very important to reestablishing public trust for the water service sector — to all be on the same page and to have a common message. We’ve worked on communication tools our partners can use.

“Because we’re all dealing with the same product, we’re willing to get in the trenches and deal with a variety of subjects that are not necessarily ours to own. We’ve opened ourselves up to provide technology and resources for the benefit of our partners’ distribution systems.

“If they’re having trouble opening and closing a valve, for example, we send our field service maintenance teams out to assist them. They may not be used to dealing with a 36-inch valve, but that’s our world. Wherever we can, we try to lend a helping hand.”


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