A Background in and Passion for Science Propelled This Kentucky Operator to Career Success

Jenny Moss directs operations at one drinking water and three wastewater treatment plants. She credits her teams for her success and industry recognition.

A Background in and Passion for Science Propelled This Kentucky Operator to Career Success

The Moss Water Treatment Plant is owned by the Hopkinsville (Kentucky) Water Environment  Authority, which has seven water storage tanks throughout its system.

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After college Jenny Moss wanted a job involving nature and animals. Low pay for natural resources jobs quickly ended that notion, and she found herself with a career in water and wastewater.

She is now director of water and wastewater at the Hopkinsville (Kentucky) Water Environment Authority. She grew up in Hopkinsville, a community of about 31,000 about 70 miles northwest of Nashville. 

In 2020, the city’s Moss Water Treatment Plant won the statewide Outstanding Operations Award from the Kentucky Water and Wastewater Operators Association. It’s named for MacKenzie Moss, former general manager of the authority. He wasn’t related to Jenny: “Not even the same family line. I do joke that it’s named after me.”


As a high school student, Moss thought she wanted to attend veterinary school, but decided against that. “A lot of the opportunities I found after college, and also with internships, were grant-related,” she recalls. “If you didn’t get a grant, you didn’t get paid. That didn’t sound very appetizing, to fight for my paycheck every single year.”

Moss’ parents moved the family to Hopkinsville when Jenny was very young. She left for college in Lexington and then moved back at a stage of life when many young people are attracted to large cities: “I fell in love with a guy who already worked here, and I married him, and that’s why we ended up here. 

“All of our parents lived here, and when we started our family, we wanted them close. I always thought I wanted to live in a big city, but now, in hindsight, I’m glad that I didn’t.” After college graduation in 1994, she commuted to work in the chemistry lab of the GE Aviation aircraft engine plant in Madisonville, about 45 minutes north of Hopkinsville.

She learned how aircraft engines are built, but after six months she was hired as pretreatment coordinator in Hopkinsville, handling compliance, sampling and other tasks involving industrial wastewater customers. It was a full-time job with no commute. “I had a friend who worked here and knew that it was a good place to be,” she says. “Losing that hour and a half commute every day was worth it.” 

Moss has been in her present job since 2012. Her zoology degree meant she learned quite a bit of chemistry and biology, so when the lab analyst retired, she was assigned to the lab part-time. She recalls, “Kind of cold turkey they dropped me out there and said, ‘Figure this out.’ I managed to do that. That’s where I learned about the wastewater side of our business.”

She didn’t learn about drinking water until a few years later when the state decreed that any water plant lab had to be supervised by someone with a four-year degree in certain fields of study. “And I happened to be the only one here who had some version of a biology degree,” Moss says. “Then I took on the water quality lab at the drinking water plant, fortunately with an analyst who knew what she was doing.” 

Varied source water

The Moss drinking water plant uses surface sources but is unusual in having three ways to bring water in. Lake Barkley, 27 miles away, is the primary source. It was created by a dam on the Cumberland River and is part of the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area. The pipeline can deliver 20 mgd directly to the plant.

The second source is the South Quarry. It can be filled from the Lake Barkley pipeline, and then the plant can draw from it. “The South Quarry acts as a primary settling basin,” Moss says. “If we’ve had a lot of rain and the lake water quality is not that great, we can turn it off so we don’t cause a problem for our raw turbidity level.” 

The third source is the North Quarry. It is spring-fed, so the water is very cold and clear. “In summertime when water quality tends to get bad due to low water levels, warm water and growing algae, we can use that North Quarry source. We also don’t have to use as much chemical treatment,” Moss says. Cold water also reduces formation of disinfection byproducts.

The availability of the quarries means turbidity coming from Lake Barkley can be managed before it reaches the plant filters. Managing high turbidity inside the plant would require multiple filter backwashes and plenty of coagulant to drop sediment in the clarifiers, which then would have to be cleaned more often.

The water plant has a design capacity of 15 mgd. Raw water is treated with polyaluminum chloride, sodium permanganate and chlorine. After flowing through a static mixer vault, it passes through clarifiers and then a sand and anthracite filter. Final steps are adding chlorine and fluorine, along with and polyphosphate to reduce corrosion.

Moss observes, “I’m proud to say that Nikki Chambers, our plant supervisor, and Charlie Lane, our chief operator, have done a brilliant job making sure our plant makes the area-wide optimization program standard.” AWOP is a set of techniques and tools to improve water treatment to which the utility committed 2011-13, and from 2017 to the present.

The other plant team members are Chandra Henderson, water quality specialist and operator; plant operators Ray Decoursey, Robert Tubbs, John Hall, Doug Montgomery and Randy Hunt; Terry Meacham, distribution system operator; and water treatment plant trainees Ben Gore and Kevin Duncan.

Three wastewater plants

Moss oversees three wastewater plants and one water plant. The Crofton Wastewater Treatment Plant is a 0.2 mgd lagoon system with no on-site staff. The Hammond-Woods Wastewater Plant (6 mgd design, 4.5 mgd average) and the Oak Grove Wastewater Plant (0.72 mgd design, 0.45 mgd average) use oxidation ditch processes.

Each plant has a supervisor who oversees the entire plant and a chief operator who manages operations:

Hammond-Woods: Stephen Greenwell, supervisor; Bradford Carroll, chief operator; Judy Wayte, water quality specialist and operator; and operators Terry Frogue, Dalton McGregor and JB Hendrix and WWTP trainee Keith Mahone.

Oak Grove: Leroy Adams, supervisor; Jamel Lee, chief operator; operators Billy Ervin, D’Arsy Davis, and Dylan Crick.

 Shifting shifts

Shifts have changed over the years. “We’re having trouble finding new water plant operators, and so there was a time, for quite a while, when our operators were working 12-hour shifts around the clock,” says Moss. That makes for a tough week, especially on the overnight shift.

Now each operator typically works a week of first shifts (7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.), a week of second shifts (3:30 p.m. to 11:30 p.m.) and a week of third shifts (11:30 p.m. to 7:30 a.m.). There is an official schedule, but operators are allowed to rearrange it to suit their needs while making sure their shifts are covered. 

In the beginning, when she wasn’t a supervisor, there were challenges. “I was young. I was 23, 24, so I had both my age and my gender working against me,” Moss says. “I admittedly didn’t know anything. I had no knowledge to back myself up with.” At trainings she was typically the only woman in the room, but no one was rude or inappropriate.

“Now I’m proud to say our drinking water plant supervisor is a woman,” she says. “Both of our laboratory water quality specialists for drinking water and wastewater are women.” Moss would love to hire more women but doesn’t have the luxury of being choosy because of the overall operator shortage.

Wastewater upgrade

Among challenges facing Moss is an expansion of the Hammond-Woods wastewater plant to 9 mgd capacity. The plant was built in 1983 and renovated in 1995. The community is seeing industrial and residential growth, and the equipment and processes installed in 1995 are worn out. The total project will cost about $45 million.

Moss was involved in early discussions about the upgrade just after she started her current job in 2012. Now the project is underway and about half done: “We are adding a Sulzer ABS anaerobic reactor that will help with nutrient removal because we understand the state will eventually put phosphorus and total nitrogen limits in our discharge permit, which we don’t currently have.”

Biosolids will be dewatered on a Schwing Bioset screw press, which won’t require constant operator attention. A new operations building is under construction; the present one dates to 1983. “I was excited to give the staff new offices, an operator control room which they’ve never had, lots of space for a new water quality laboratory, and a state-of-the-art treatment plant,” Moss says.

The present plant is doing its job and operates within its permit, “But every day is a challenge for the operators because something is always breaking down.” Hammond-Woods will get ABB electromagnetic flowmeters, Kurz Instruments air flow meters, Precision Digital digital process meters and Metso solids meters to reduce the need for manual operations, and the utility’s first wastewater treatment plant SCADA system. (The water plant already has SCADA.)

“I want to give all of the praise to my team,” says Moss. “They do all of the work, maintain all the facilities. The teams at all the plants are outstanding, to say the least. And I’m very proud to be part of those teams.”   


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