To This Mississippi Water Operator, the Career Is an Exercise in Constant Learning

Terence Byrd isn’t in the business of seeking credit. He’s focused on empowering and improving his staff and delivering high-quality water.

To This Mississippi Water Operator, the Career Is an Exercise in Constant Learning

Anthony Brownlow, left, water operator I, takes a sample of product water with Terence Byrd.

You’d be hard-pressed to find a more humble water treatment professional than Terence Byrd.

As operations supervisor at the J.H. Fewell Water Treatment Plant in Jackson, Mississippi, Byrd received the 2017 Alabama/Mississippi American Water Works Association Operator of the Year award, but he deflects any pats on the back. “It’s an honor to be recognized, but lots of people do the same job and don’t get recognized,” he says.

Cynthia Hill, who is now retired but was Byrd’s supervisor for many years, says: “He never takes credit for himself. He’ll discover an issue and solve it, then sit back and refuse to take credit for it. He was assigned to the plant but wanted to learn distribution, too. He felt he would be better equipped to serve the customer. He has helped with the lab. He’s professional and self-motivated and goes above and beyond. I wish there were more like him.”

Steady rise

Byrd’s interest in water started when he studied environmental technology in community college. “My professor was a staff member at the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality,” he remembers. “She noticed my interest and told me about a job in water treatment.

“I was 21 years old and the youngest hire at the time. But I realized the career was recessionproof, and I felt that the environment was something bigger than myself.”

In the 15 years since, Byrd has risen from operator to operations supervisor, receiving the promotion when the previous supervisor retired. He has learned a lot: “It’s a constant learning process. What you know is just a portion.”

The 106-year-old Fewell plant is one of two water treatment facilities serving 165,000 customers in Jackson and the metro area. The other water treatment facility, the O.B. Curtis plant in Ridgeland, has expanded from 25 to 50 mgd over the years.

The Fewell plant produces on average of 10 mgd of high-quality drinking water, drawing from the Pearl River and six wells drilled into the Sparta Aquifer. Design capacity is 20 mgd. The conventional process includes microscreens (Screening Systems International), rapid mix for coagulant chemicals, aluminum sulfate solution as the main coagulant, hydrated lime addition for pH control, polymer to aid coagulation, flocculation and sedimentation.

Sand filters (Leopold - a Xylem Brand) polish the treated water, and UV light units (TrojanUV) disinfect it. Ammonia gas is added to keep a lasting disinfection throughout the distribution system. A sludge removal mechanism (Leopold - a Xylem Brand) removes waste solids from sedimentation basins. CSI provided the SCADA system and offers technical support. A radio system (Micro-Comm) coordinates communication with the utility’s 16 aboveground storage tanks.

Broad responsibilities

Byrd’s duties include supervising the Fewell plant operations, distribution system and tanks. He also reviews purchases, makes budget recommendations, and interviews and recommends potential new hires for the water plant.

In the nomination for the AWWA award, nominators cited his help with the startup, troubleshooting and operation of the new Maddox Road booster station and the installation of equipment as part of an infrastructure upgrade at the Fewell plant. The project comprised new chemical feed equipment including chlorinators, chlorine dioxide generators and a chlorine cylinder apparatus (Wallace & Tiernan, an Evoqua Water Technologies brand).

“Those projects were started before I took over,” Byrd says. “My responsibilities were to make sure the equipment was installed properly and the projects were cost-effective. Day to day, my responsibilities include supervising our operators to make sure the equipment is running properly, that it’s maintained and that we are meeting our parameters from the state health department and the U.S. EPA.” His staff includes:

Chris Ward and Keidron Porter, senior operators

James Jackson and Silas Anderson, operator II; and Charles Williams, Anthony Brownlow and Dave Love, operator I

Roy Bennett, instrument technician; Aree Williams, electrician; and Greg McGee and Tommy West, utility mechanics

James Perry, maintenance supervisor, and Charles Harvey and Jonathon Minter, maintenance workers

Kathy Moore, office coordinator

Seeking new talent

Byrd shares the concern of most water professionals who worry about the shortage of incoming operators. “People don’t realize we need qualified operators to get water to customers,” he says. “I like to inform younger and older applicants on the possibilities in a career in water, letting them know it’s more than just a job — it’s a fulfilling career.”

In the past, the utility has reached out to local colleges to have staff members speak with classes in the science department. The outreach also includes booths at the city’s job fair. 

The age of the treatment facility means Byrd and his staff practice rigorous preventive maintenance to cut down on unexpected costs. “Some of our oldest equipment includes our filter consoles,” he says. Since surface water conditions can change, the city’s engineering staff is at work on alkalinity, studying various cases to find the best methods of producing water that leaves the plant at a pH above 8.6.

Meeting safe drinking water standards and customer demands is Byrd’s highest priority: “That’s where I’m trying to go — be fully staffed and provide better water. We’re trying to get things to where the system as a whole is in a better place.”

Collaborative style

A big part of doing his best is Byrd’s leadership style: fair and inclusive. He describes it as “democratic, meaning we hear all the voices of the all the employees. And it’s not just me or the individual; it’s for the greater good of the facility.”

He’s known for helping people and conducting the planning process with his staff. He has helped others get their Class A certification, believing, “The better the staff, the better the water.” With a bigger staff, he would hold regular meetings to facilitate communications, but with his relatively small crew, he sees and talks with each person at least once a day.

He talks with staff member as they come and go. There are regular safety meetings, and Byrd is increasing their frequency from quarterly to twice monthly to help keep safe operations on everyone’s mind.

“I’ve worked with a variety of people, both good and bad,” Byrd says. “I’ve learned what I want to do and what I don’t want to do as a leader. Honestly, everyone I’ve ever worked with has helped me to do what I do today.”   


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