Water Utility Superintendent Inherited a Mystery. Through Diligence He Solved It — and Others

Unraveling tough mechanical and water quality challenges helps keep work life interesting for this Wisconsin utility leader.

Water Utility Superintendent Inherited a Mystery. Through Diligence He Solved It — and Others

The team at the Village of Germantown water utility includes, from left, Steve Lemke and Eric Kleiss, water utility technicians; Paul Haugen, water superintendent; Lauren Downs, summer intern; Scott Weigand, foreman/designated operator; and Jeff Downs, water utility technician. Not pictured is Mike Zielinski, water utility technician. 

Paul Haugen had a mystery on his hands. The six wells supplying water to Germantown Waterworks’ customers were supposed to be inspected every 10 years, but some ran barely half as long.

For example, Wells 4 and 11 lasted two and four years. In February 2021, Well 5 went down after eight years. A cheese manufacturer exacerbated the situation by requiring the capacity of one well — 1 mgd.

“With the utility two wells deficient, we’re at the threshold of not meeting peak demand,” says Haugen, superintendent of the utility in Southeast Wisconsin. “If a water main ruptures or we have a major fire, the active wells would run nonstop and tax the motors.”

Haugen inherited the mystery when the village hired him in June 2017. Not content with the status quo, he and Scott Weigand, designated operator, attacked the problem. CTW Corp., a pump contractor and Sarah Nunn, P.E., the company’s operations manager, resolved the mechanical issues, but not their cause.

“Water conditions and water quality are never constant,” Haugen says. “To understand what Mother Nature was throwing at us, Sarah recommended Andy Jacque, Ph.D., chief scientist and owner of Water Quality Investigation. Once he identified iron bacteria as the culprit, the Gordian knot unraveled.”

Nunn nominated Haugen for the 2019 Operator Meritorious Award from the Wisconsin Section-AWWA based on his commitment to finding the answer. “Winning was a total shock,” Haugen says. “The award wouldn’t have been possible without my team.”

Water quality

Treatment facilities at Wells 3 and 11 plus four other wells can supply the village with 1.8 mgd. Each treatment facility has a well pump room, a chemical room, a hydrous manganese oxide chemical room, filters (sand and anthracite dual media with support gravels), a generator and an air compressor/blower room. The Well 3 facility has the laboratory.

Besides chlorination and fluoridation, hydrous manganese oxide is injected to remove radium. Water is stored in three towers with 2 million gallons combined capacity and distributed through 97 miles of mains. Besides Weigand, the plant team includes Jeff Downs, Eric Kleiss, Mike Zielinski, and Steve Lemke, certified operators and Crystal Bartz, billing clerk.

Haugen, 58, graduated from Homestead High School in Mequon, Wisconsin, in 1981. He worked on oil drilling rigs in Utah, Colorado and Wyoming before returning home to build coaxial cable for a communications company. In 1984, he joined the Fox Point Water Utility, eventually certifying as a Grade 1 (entry level) distribution and groundwater operator.

Meanwhile, he learned all the village had to offer, from collecting waste for the public works department to earning an emergency medical technician license and serving as a firefighter. In 1990, he was promoted to water utility foremen. He left the village in 2014, worked three years for an electric utility, and then joined Germantown Waterworks.

“Thankfully, Fox Point taught me the basics, because I walked in here cold,” Haugen says. “Without a succession plan, I had no idea where my predecessor left off and what should follow. It was daunting, but Scott helped me through those days.”

Previous maintenance

On the surface, basic maintenance appeared to have kept the utility in good condition. Annually, it averaged 8 to 10 water main breaks and lost 12 to 14 hydrants to internal part failures and vehicle collisions. The crew routinely flushed the distribution system from the wells and water towers to the ends of the pipes and exercised valves.

Haugen, however, took a deeper look and saw what had to change. “My approach is to stay ahead of the curve by repairing more infrastructure and replacing more old hydrants and valves,” he says.

For workers, a facility rehab now means going through the building with a fine-toothed comb, identifying what isn’t working and fixing it from the roof on down. A recent project was patching the floors and coating them with epoxy paint because caustic chemicals had eaten holes in the concrete.

But deep in the wells, a problem that had developed over a decade was reaching maturity. “The condition wasn’t significant enough for my predecessor to detect,” says Haugen. “It only rumbled to life after I arrived, and we were fortunate to catch it when we did.”

Opening salvo

Mastering each well’s history was a learning curve. For example, before starting a well, operators originally used a vegetable oil bath to lubricate the spider that centered the pump rods as they passed through it. In 2015, Well 4 was the last to be converted to a water lube bath. Workers also replaced the pump and piping.

Three years later, customers began complaining about cloudy water. “We didn’t know if there was a hole in a column pipe, if the drawdown exceeded a pump’s output, or if something else was wrong,” Haugen says.

CTW analyzed the situation and determined Well 4 was losing capacity. After pulling everything out of the well, the team found holes in the ductile iron column pipe and the coupling threads, and the 13-stage pump was missing impellers. With no idea what caused the damage, they repaired it and replaced the piping.

In 2020, Well 4 lost pumping capacity again. This time, Nunn recommended partnering with Andy Jacque, Ph.D., chief scientist and owner of Water Quality Investigation in Mount Horeb, Wisconsin.

“For years the water industry has misunderstood the complex relationship between biofilm, corrosion, disinfection and coliform positive results,” Nunn says. “Andy identifies the core issue or deficiency, removes it and, by substantially improving water quality, reduces chemical additions and system repairs.”

Well 4 Restoration

Jacque analyzed Well 4 water samples under the microscope and identified nonpathogenic iron bacteria as the culprit. “The bacteria create communities that need nutrients to survive, so they eat the iron in carbon steel column pipes,” Haugen says. “Once the bacteria attach to the pipe, they secrete slime, or biofilm, which forms a hard protective shell. Most of our system is ductile iron or PVC pipes, and all six wells show signs of biofouling.”

Iron bacteria don’t give up easily. Operators followed Jacque’s recommendations and cleaned the cased region and lower bore hole with inhabitant hydrochloric acid and glycolic acid to fracture the shells. After neutralizing and discharging the chemicals, they introduced high doses of chlorine to kill the exposed microbes.

Before replacing the 10-foot sections of column pipe, Jacque recommended coating them with epoxy. “A contractor sandblasted the pipes inside and out, then COVID hit and all manufacture of column pipes and epoxy coatings ceased,” Haugen says. The plant plans on using Bar-Rust 233H (Devoe) solvent-free epoxy.

Meanwhile, Jacque discovered that the microbes were eating the graphite-based lubricant on the column pipe couplings. He recommended switching to Slickon GTS Gold Thread Sealant with polytetrafluoroethylene (Anti-Seize Technology), a non-carbon-based grease.

Once Well 4 is online, Jacque’s pump maintenance program will continue biofilm mitigation via weekly low-dose chlorine injections. First, the pump must run for five minutes, enabling the drawdown to create a vortex. “Then we shut off the pump, pour in the chlorine, and the vortex carries it down to the cased region and aquifer,” Haugen says. “The chlorine needs two hours of static water to kill the critters.”

A secondary protocol involves weekly testing of water samples from the column pipe, lower bore hole and aquifer for biofilm growth. Quarterly, Jacque analyzes the samples under a microscope.

“We’re still recirculating chlorine and testing pH to see how much is being absorbed,” Haugen says. Operators use the Pocket Pro Low Conductivity Tester (Hach). Once the epoxy coating arrives and the SIMFLO pump is installed, Haugen estimated that Well 4 would be online in a week or two.

Rolling the dice

Haugen’s challenges were far from over. His predecessors knew Pump 11, a treatment well, had a stray current problem, but not its source. They suspected the current was exacerbating corrosion and biofilm. In 2016, operators installed an impressed current cathodic protection system to generate sacrificial anodes, but wondered if the microbes would feed on them or prefer the column pipe.

In 2020 and based on the history of Well 4, Haugen pulled Pump 11 for rehab. Upon inspection, CTW found a quarter-size hole in the column pipe. “It was too small to affect the well’s specific capacity, but Sarah said the pump would fail in less than six months,” he says.

That September, the utility’s SCADA system recorded an amperage increase on Pump 3, the second treatment well. When the draw exceeded the setpoint, SCADA turned it off. “Such an alarm usually indicates a mechanical restriction, so we cautiously tried to restart the pump,” Haugen says. It didn’t work.

When CTW technicians pulled the pump, they found a sand lockup. “The bottom of the bore holes is sandstone, and it sloughs off occasionally,” Haugen says. “When the pump drew in the particulates, they seized up some impellers.”

CTW rebuilt the pump and removed the ball bearings in the ratchets on top of the motor to prevent future lockups. “The ratchets normally retain the static energy inside 900 feet of pump rods for the next startup,” Haugen says. “Now when the pump shuts off, the coiled energy runs out and the kinetic energy reverses in a second, flushing away any sand.”

 Uncertain elements

The pumps aren’t Haugen’s only challenge. A cheese manufacturer has its own 1 mgd production well, which is often offline for maintenance. When that happens and without warning, the owners switch to utility water. “Meeting their demand of 600 to 900 gpm takes one pump and puts us in a tighter spot,” Haugen says.

Haugen is working with the Public Service Commission to create a rate structure beneficial to the village and the plant’s owners. “They want to become a full-time customer but are waiting for the rate case,” he says. “Our caveat is that they must keep their well as backup until our new Well 12 is online in two years.”

Weather emergencies are another loose cannon in Haugen’s life. In mid-December 2020, a winter storm caused power outages across the region. Haugen had two wells offline and Well 4 without a generator. “The situation was too tense for me to sleep that weekend,” he says. “I even alerted nearby Menomonee Falls to the possibility of opening the two 8-inch interconnections.” It wasn’t necessary.

The averted crisis was barely in Haugen’s rearview mirror before Jeff Downs heard a rhythmic subterranean booming from Well 5 during daily pump rounds. Weigand and Haugen arrived to cycle the pump and listen: not good. CTW crews at Wells 4 and 11 quickly converged to help.

“Five isn’t deep, so the guys pulled the pump in a day and found a hole in the pump bowl,” Haugen says. “It had blown in an instant and acted like a jet engine, forcing the pipe column against the cased region.” CTW had the well back online in a week and a half.

Torch bearer

Haugen’s list of current and future improvement projects is daunting. Once completed, they will fulfill his biggest goal of leaving a standard of excellence for the utility to follow. That includes writing succession plans and mentoring his eventual replacement.

Haugen also invests in new people, just like his mentor, Marty Gladowski, the former village of Brown Deer water superintendent. “Marty answered all my newbie questions because he believed veterans should share their knowledge and advice with those passionate to learn,” Haugen says. “It’s vital to retain operators instead of replacing them with contractors. Operators have the historical information to keep water systems healthy.”


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