Hardin County (Kentucky) Water District 2 Has Tackled and Overcome a Variety of Big Challenges

The right blend of technology, approach and operational teamwork delivers award-winning water quality to communities in rural Kentucky’s Hardin County.

Hardin County (Kentucky) Water District 2 Has Tackled and Overcome a Variety of Big Challenges

Plant operator trainee Ben Willis uses the Phipps & Bird jar tester.

Karst topography can present water utilities with unique challenges.

Hardin County (Kentucky) Water District 2 has found ways to overcome its biggest challenges by incorporating unique process technology, cross-training the staff and being willing to look at and adopt alternatives. All this has earned the utility recognition for 10 years running as a leader in water quality for the communities it serves.

The district’s White Mills Water Treatment Plant, established in 1990, serves a rural population of 78,000 with about 29,000 connections. The plant can treat up to 8.1 mgd but on average treats 5.5 mgd, and the distribution system covers some 425 miles with 1,000 miles of distribution main.

The district itself was formed in the mid-1960s to provide water to the rural areas of Hardin County. In 2014 the district purchased the nearby City of Elizabethtown system and became the county’s largest water provider. The district also supplies parts of Larue and Hart counties.

White Mills draws its water from the confluence of the Nolin River and the White Mills Spring. Although the primary source is a spring, the area’s karst topography makes this water body very susceptible to surface water, presenting a challenge of high turbidity during heavy rain events.

Karst topography allows surface runoff to enter into the groundwater supply, carrying contaminants including soil, chemicals and animal waste.

The region has taken steps with residents and farmers to limit infiltration by incorporating filter strips around streambanks and sinkholes. In addition, no-till farming has become more prevalent in reducing runoff and, with it, the levels of organics and soil in the plant’s source water. 

Technology and treatment

The White Mills plant treats water in a unique way. Two KSB and two Sulzer submersible pumps deliver source water to the plant, where it passes through a series of CB&I ClariCone solids contact units (McDermott). These up-flow clarifiers, with minimal moving parts, can treat 2.7 mgd each. From there the water passes through six gravity flow filters before delivery to the distribution system by five 125 hp US Motors (Nidec) pumps and three 250 hp PACO (Grundfos) pumps.

The plant received the Outstanding Water System Operations Award from the Kentucky Water and Wastewater Operator Association in 1992, 1996, 2004 and 2019 and has been recognized 10 years in a row by the Kentucky Division of Water in 2020 for meeting Area Wide Optimization Program goals. That’s largely because the district runs a tight ship, keeping the plant well maintained and its team members cross-trained.

“We work very hard at the plant, but we also need to give credit to our wonderful board of commissioners who listen to our needs and give us the resources necessary to run the facility and the system the way it should be run,” says Shaun Youravich, district general manager.

“That support trickles down from there to our management staff and supervisors, who take what they do very personally. They have tremendous respect for the district and for what they do. They care deeply about what they provide to our customers.”

The facility has succeeded despite substantial challenges and obstacles. Extreme turbidity has been a persistent issue, requiring operators to be vigilant especially during heavy spring and summer rain events, which are common. The team performs diligent jar testing while also running a UV 254 test for organics to stay ahead of potential treatment issues.

To help stay on top of demand and meet water quality standards, the district in 2000 added a state-certified laboratory as part of an expansion of its facilities. Previously, the plant had relied on a lab 60 miles away; that was unacceptable in cases of main breaks or other emergencies at off hours when it was essential to get samples into the lab as soon as possible.

“We decided to open our own lab not so much to save on cost but because it would be more convenient and efficient in getting results back quickly,” Youravich says. “Having our own lab helps us provide better customer service, and now we can offer that same type of service to other surrounding utilities.” Multiple plant operators are also trained in the lab and have lab analyst certifications so that Hardin can run samples regardless of date or time.

In 2018, the plant remained fully operational throughout a complete interior upgrade, in which barely a bolt went untouched from floor to ceiling. With three clarifiers and three treatment trains, the team was able to shut one down at a time and keep the others online. That was no small feat, as sandblasting and varied construction activity created a form of chaos. It took about a year, but at the end White Mills was a like-new facility. 

Goodbye byproducts

Disinfection byproducts were historically an issue for the plant, and rule changes revealed that the plant would likely be above the maximum contaminant limits. Knowing this, the team began looking at process changes to reduce disinfection byproducts while maintaining water quality. 

Accordingly, the staff decided to switch from chlorine to chloramines as the primary disinfectant.

The plant now adds liquid ammonium sulfate to the process to react with chlorine. That has reduced disinfectant byproducts by more than 65%, keeping the water well below the new EPA limits. There were some added benefits to the changeover: “We feel this has improved water quality, residuals and water taste, especially in the more far-reaching areas of the distribution system,” says John Cruse, chief water treatment operator.

Several equipment changes enabled the switch to chloramines, among them the installation and modification of chlorine analyzers throughout the distribution system to allow operators to read total chlorine versus free chlorine.

The district had always maintained a positive Langelier Index and had monitored the corrosive activity of the water throughout the system. The change to chloramines had no effect on the infrastructure, and the staff noticed that with the reduction in disinfection byproducts, the chlorine residual appeared to last longer in the distribution system. That was important because the system is large and widespread.

While the switch to chloramine did not provide direct cost saving, the district did save on maintenance, as hydrant flushing is now needed less frequently in some areas.

All hands on deck

The district employs a full maintenance department whose members work in the distribution system, and each treatment plant has a maintenance technician. The team in addition to Cruse includes the following members:

-Stuart Erhardt, plant manager (Class IVA licensed)

-Ryan Kynett, water quality supervisor (Class IVA)

-Jody Nalley, water treatment plant maintenance technician

-Class IVA plant operators Chris Phillips, Mike Hale, Caleb Sedlak, Jeff McDowell, David Lowe and Class IIIA operator Joy Womack

-Water quality technicians Stephen Schueller and Mike Rock

-Plant operator trainees Taylor Aubrey and Ben Willis

Several team members serve as both maintenance technicians and operators. “We had people who were initially hired as operator and performed that task for a number of years,” Youravich says. “But during their tenure we discovered that some had great technical or mechanical ability, and so it made sense for them to morph into also being maintenance technicians.

“Vice versa, we had maintenance technicians with excellent understanding of technology who received industrial maintenance training through our community technical college, and we were able to accentuate their natural abilities through in-house training in our treatment plants to become certified as operators. Although it’s a long process it pays off for both the staff members and the plant.”

By cross-training throughout the entire organization, both of the district’s treatment plants are covered. Although the plants operate differently, staff members can easily go from one to the other. With their expertise, technicians can spot issues for each other and address them before they become major problems.

Youravich also makes the entire operating team part of the district’s capital improvement planning. The 20-year capital program is updated annually, and all departments are asked to work on it collectively as a living document. 

The district also has a strong culture of promoting from within and rewarding team members who have served well. “To be successful in this business, from an operator’s point of view, you’ve got to love what you do,” Cruse says.

“We are not people who are out in the public view. Most of the time we are out in the country working somewhere, invisible. Nobody really thinks about the treatment plant. They just turn the water on and it’s there. But we know how important it is to provide safe, high-quality drinking water to the public. That is what drives us and keeps us pushing to improve and serve.”  


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