Three Local Professionals Sustain Quality Water and Wastewater Operations in Jonesville, Michigan

Brian Boyle and two homegrown colleagues ring up consistent success in quality effluent and trouble-free plant performance.

Three Local Professionals Sustain Quality Water and Wastewater Operations in Jonesville, Michigan

Boyle won the 2020 Michigan Water Environment Association Operations Professional of the Year award.

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The Michigan city of Jonesville didn’t have to look far to find a top-notch team to operate its water and wastewater systems.

Superintendent Rick Mahoney, his assistant Brian Boyle, and operator Ed Hughes all come from the local area and have pooled their expertise to give the city efficient and reliable operations, while discharging high-quality effluent to the St. Joe River.

Boyle, backed by 39 years of experience, received the 2020 Operations Professional of the Year award from the Michigan Water Environment Association. Mahoney, who retired at the end of October, contributed knowledge from operating a variety of clean-water facilities around the state. Hughes came on board three years ago, bringing mechanical aptitude from the construction and heating/air conditioning industries.

Together they have brought sound maintenance practices and up-to-date SCADA control to a clean-water plant upgraded in 2005 with 0.61 mgd design capacity and 0.34 mgd average flow. They also maintain the collection system, operate the water treatment plant, and maintain the water tower.

Approaching four decades

Jonesville (population 2,300) lies just north of the Indiana-Ohio border, on U.S. Highway 12, which follows the route of the Old Sauk Trail from Detroit to Chicago. Boyle has the longest tenure among his team. He grew up in nearby Mosherville and attended Jonesville High School.

“When I graduated in the late ’70s, there wasn’t a whole lot going on in the job market,” Boyle recalls. “I took a summer job at the high school. I tried college for a year, but it wasn’t anything I was interested in at the time. When I came back, I went to work at the high school for another summer.”

A staff member there left, and Boyle was hired full-time; he stayed for three years. Then a friend who worked at the wastewater treatment plant told him about a job opening there. “The village president was my high school counselor, so I guess I had an in,” Boyle says. “I filled out an application, had an interview and they hired me.

“I thought it would be a good, steady job until something else came along. And I just fell in love with it. I became very aware of Michigan and the quality of water, and it became important to me to make sure all those things were taken care of. That’s what my real goal was: to put out a good-quality effluent and make the waters safe.

“It’s ever-changing. The technology is completely different than it was 39 years ago. I’m fairly certain there wasn’t a computer anywhere in this building when I got here. The whole place is run by computers now.”

A plant’s evolution

The wastewater treatment plant was built with a trickling filter, replaced in 1980 with two rotating biological contactor (RBC) trains. The 2005 upgrade installed two trickling filter towers (WesTech Engineering) and replaced the RBCs with pressure filters (Tonka Water) for final treatment. The upgrade also included a pair of circular final clarifiers (WesTech), a UV disinfection system (TrojanUV), and a boiler fueled with biogas or methane to heat the anaerobic digester.

Influent passes through a Channel Monster grinder (JWC Environmental), a grit building, and an Auger Monster screening system (also JWC). That is followed by primary clarification, the trickling filters, secondary clarification, and final filtration. Effluent typically contains 3 mg/L BOD, 3 mg/L TSS, 0.5 mg/L phosphorus, and 0.15 mg/L nitrogen.

Liquid biosolids are applied to farmland by a contractor, usually just once a year in late fall. The digested material is stored in three tanks.

The water treatment system draws from two deep wells. In 2020, the facility was completely refurbished with new piping and high-service pumps, and both well houses were retrofitted with new pumps and motors. A pair of greensand filters (Tonka Water) remove iron, followed by chlorine and fluoride dosing.

Always improving

Boyle spent his first 10 years with Jonesville working mainly in the lab. During that time he initiated a quality assurance program that, with periodic revisions, is still in use. “I developed a standard operating procedure for each of the tests,” he says. “So even someone with limited laboratory skills and knowledge of the equipment should be able to run any test just by going step by step through each procedure.”

Next he transitioned into maintenance, where he set up a planned maintenance schedule and took care of regular equipment checks, lubrication, component replacements and other tasks. He has been assistant superintendent for the past 29 years.

Boyle appreciates the varied challenges and the art of keeping a complex facility running: “Maybe a piece of equipment isn’t operating properly, or maybe we’re not getting the removal somewhere in the process that we should. What are we doing different?

“Sometimes, especially when it’s equipment, you can just sit and watch it for some time. Maybe it’s making a different noise. If you hear something you’re not used to hearing, it probably ought to be checked out; maybe you’ve got a problem coming.”

One big benefit of the 2005 plant upgrade was the addition of redundancy. “Before, we had one primary and one final clarifier,” says Boyle. “We have two of those now, so if we need to do work on the flights or the scraper arms, we can isolate one and use the other. Before, we would have to stop the flow to the plant and then hustle to make the repair before we started backing up the system.”

Another improvement was to add variable-frequency drives to the pumps: “That has really helped the operation and performance of the plant. With on-off pump control, our detention times were kind of variable. The VFDs have made everything a lot smoother.”

Advancing automation

The newly installed FactoryTalk View system from Rockwell Automation enables automated control and easy checks on equipment operation, whether in the plant or remotely. “Suppose I’m looking at a pump, and at 40 Hz it should be pumping this many gallons per minute, and it’s not attaining that. Maybe there’s a vibration, or a bearing that’s making it work harder than it needs to. Nine times out of 10 it’s got rags in it — that’s one of the biggest headaches in this business.”

The system includes a wide assortment of alarms activated according to criticality. Top priority goes to alarms for high wet well levels, pump failures and other events that could interrupt the process during unstaffed hours. The facility is staffed every day from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

On the collections side, the system is all gravity flow — there are no lift stations. A few years ago the city bought a used Vactor truck that can be deployed in emergencies to deal with blockages. “We farm it out to other communities that have lift stations if they need a hand getting things cleared out,” Boyle says. “That has come in handy for pretty much everybody else in the county.”

Boyle and Mahoney instigated a five-year program of televising every sewer main in the city. After a contractor completes the work, they review the video and appraise the condition of the lines to determine what should be repaired and when. “We’ve gone through it one time, and we’re getting ready to start the second round,” Boyle says.

“We’ve made a few repairs. We had Insituform line a stretch of main in a high-water-table area that was fractured. It was super fast, super simple and not very intrusive. We’ve since gone back in there with a camera, and it still looks like brand new.” 

A cohesive team

Boyle is grateful for his two colleagues and for the support they receive from the city leadership. “Rick (Mahoney) has his Class A license,” Boyle says. “He was superintendent at the Hillsdale plant for some time. Then he went to work for an engineering firm and did contract operations. He got the chance to move around the state.

“We were very fortunate that he came here. He arrived just as we were starting our 2005 upgrade. He had been through an upgrade at Hillsdale, so his experience was invaluable in keeping things moving through here while different processes were being taken offline and replaced. He’s a Grade A professional, and he’s got a pretty good sense of humor, too. We’ve certainly had a lot of fun.”

Hughes worked in a local electric power plant until it closed down. “He was more skilled in industrial than sanitary waste treatment, but he brought some very good knowledge with him,” Boyle says. “He’s very skilled mechanically. He fell into the profession like I did; he didn’t realize how much he would like the job.”

Meanwhile, Boyle keeps in close touch with Jonesville officials, and that has paid off handsomely. “The councils and city managers we’ve had over the years have been on the same page with us,” he says. “They see results in that we don’t have failures and our sewers and water mains are in good shape because we try to head off problems before they happen.

“They come out to the wastewater treatment plant occasionally, just to say hello. They see that things are taken care of. When we say we need money for something to make the place better, they know we’re going to get the most production out of it that we can.

“Rick gave them monthly reports at the council meetings on what our effluent was, what repairs we made, and anything we replaced, so they were aware of what’s going on here and at the water treatment facility. We keep them informed, and they have really been on board. It has made our jobs so much nicer.”

Right at home

Boyle has enjoyed his career in his home territory and looks forward to more good years. “All I know is this place, but I think I know it pretty well,” he says. “I work with some really quality people. You don’t have success by yourself. It takes all of us here. These guys have been just great to work with, and everybody in the city has been that way.

“We have several city employees who have been here 20, 25 and 30 years. Everybody likes their jobs. They like who they work for, and they have a tendency to stay long term, our office staff included. The whole city seems to be on the right track.”   


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