Results-Oriented Leadership Helps Ensure High-Quality Drinking Water for Fort Myers Residents

Corkscrew Water Treatment Plant optimizes lime treatment, staff communication and management support to provide award-winning results

Results-Oriented Leadership Helps Ensure High-Quality Drinking Water for Fort Myers Residents

The team at the Corkscrew Water Plant includes, from left, Michael Frazzetto, water manager; Nick Horvath and Israel Guadarrama, operators; Juan Quintero, lead operator; Michael Rogers and Jose Gonzalez, operators in training; and Tom O’Brock, operator.

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Passion for the work, respect for team members, and open communication add up to a winning workplace.

Just ask Steven Matuska, lead operator at the Corkscrew Water Treatment Plant in Fort Myers, Florida, one of five water plants operated by Lee County Utilities. The lime softening treatment plant withdraws groundwater from 54 wells in three aquifers: sandstone, surficial and Lower Hawthorn.

Matuska’s results-oriented leadership style helps ensure the highest-quality drinking water for customers. Last year the facility received the Plant Operations Excellence Award from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection among plants serving communities of more than 50,000 customers.

The Corkscrew plant team includes assistant lead operator Juan Quintero; operators Frank Vlassich, John Craft, Tom O’Brock, Israel Guadarrama, Nick Horvath and Jeff Lavicka; operators in training Michael Rogers and Jose Gonzalez; and maintenance specialist Ray Pinola.

Give and take

The Corkscrew plant was brought online in 1980 with one lime softener and one lime silo. It serves most of unincorporated Lee County. Today it operates the same process but with three softeners and silos, keeping pace with 42 years of growth. The entire Lee County system includes five water plants and six wastewater treatment plants, with a total of 303 team members.

The Corkscrew plant processes an average of about 10.6 mgd; maximum capacity is 15 mgd. An aquifer storage and recovery system provides extra capacity during the tourist season.

“We have five injection/recovery wells, in a separate layer of the aquifer, called the Mid-Hawthorn aquifer,” Matuska says. “For three months each year, we pump 425 gpm — 300 million over 90 days — into the ground. When the snowbird season comes, we recover that water at the same increment — 2,125 gpm — back to the plant. That gives us an extra 3 mgd.

“The good, bad and ugly of that is, it was finished water when put into the ground, but it needs to be re-disinfected when recovered. We don’t need to retreat the entire process, although restrictions are tighter now. We used to be able to recover that water straight into the ground storage tank, but now it flows in about halfway into the treatment process. That eliminates about half the chemicals added to the process.”

Data parsing and sharing

The county’s five plants are dispersed fairly evenly around the service area’s outer perimeter. Corkscrew can share extra water as local plants need it. Each plant has its own SCADA systems, and overview portals allow all operators to see all plants’ tanks.

“Operators can pull up their distribution system and see how much water they have in each booster station. I can do the same for each of our facilities,” says Matuska. “Any of my staff can go to a SCADA screen that shows what other plants are making, how much water is going out, their chlorine residual and pressure, and for some of the plants, their pH.”

Lee County uses a computerized maintenance management system called Lucity, which supports preventive maintenance tracking, work order management, and asset inventory tracking for all 10 county plants. The county also uses a Water Information Management System (Hach) that accommodates water-specific data entry, treatment tracking and related tasks.

“My assistant manager and I have updated the WIMS, making it a little more user-friendly,” Matuska says. For example, operators have a lab sheet where they take notes on testing data. When they enter the data into the WIMS, that number turns green to indicate levels within desired parameters. If it’s yellow, the operators need to make an adjustment. If red, they must notify Matuska immediately about the out-of-range parameter.

Running clean

The Corkscrew plant is environmentally friendly and cost-effective, in part because the water flows through the plant entirely by gravity. Source water is pumped to the highest point, a perforated metal tray atop the aerator basin. From there it cascades down, removing hydrogen sulfide and volatile gases before entering the softening units.  

After aeration, the water goes into the Infilco Degremont and Accelator lime softeners (Veolia Water Technologies & Solutions) for  combined coagulation, flocculation and sedimentation. “It’s very, very unique, especially for something designed in the 1980s,” Matuska says.

“I have basically three little plants here; three softeners that go to three separate recarb basins,” Matuska says. “They share common filters. We run two at a time. If we have lime issues on one side of the plant, I can increase the lime feed on the other to make up for it. I have worked at this plant for eight years, and I’ve only seen it shut down for about six hours at a time. It’s the biggest producer in the county, so it’s really important to keep everything well-maintained.

“It’s also the most profitable Lee County water plant. The others operate at around $1.90 per 1,000 gallons produced; that’s staffing, chemicals, everything. This plant operates for around 96 cents per 1,000 gallons. The reason is the simplicity of the process.”

Finishing touches

The raw water comes into the softener at pH 7.4 to 7.8. The combination of water from 54 wells can lead to wide variations. On average, only 16 to 18 of them run at one time, but that still leaves multiple combinations, requiring different chemistry. Water leaves the softener at a pH of 10.1.

It next enters a concrete recarbonation basin where CO2/carrier water solution lowers the pH to 8.65. The water then flows to a chamber where sodium hypochlorite is added. In the next chamber, anhydrous ammonia is added for monochloramine formation, which creates a longer-lasting residual.

Dual-media filtration —18 inches each of sand and anthracite — comes next. After filtration, the water flows to the clear well for contact time to inactivate viruses and Giardia. After fluoridation, it flows into storage tanks and then onto the county’s Airport Haul plant, which handles most of the distribution.

In 2017, Corkscrew was runner-up for Best-Tasting Water in a competition held by the Florida Section AWWA. Matuska believes that was because the water sampled was the combined flow emerging from Airport Haul, a booster station shared by the Corkscrew and Green Meadows plants, half treated with reverse osmosis and half by lime.

“The lime water definitely has more flavor,” says Matuska. “When you put the two of those together, you almost get the best end product. That’s really what the majority of our customers are receiving.”

Synergy and support

Corkscrew has achieved excellent results while remaining in regulatory compliance. Matuska attributes much of that to Andrea Browning, Lee County’s in-house compliance officer, covering all 11 county treatment facilities.

“She formerly worked for the health department,” says Matuska. “She knows what she’s looking for, and she does a very good job of making sure we stay on top of getting everything done. She is a huge help, giving us information and research, helping us adapt to new restrictions and regulations.”

To provide Browning with the data she needs, the Corkscrew team uses the Lucity system to track maintenance and automatically generate work orders. This simplifies communication between management and the departments. Matuska also credits “a very effective preventive maintenance program; not just the software, but the team that does it day in, day out.”

He also acknowledges the importance of multiple layers of management review. “When I first got into being a manager, I questioned this until I realized how well it worked. Even my monthly operating reports; before I send them to my manager, I send them to the other four managers at my level.

Teamwork wins

Matuska believes making himself available to staff, and pitching in to help with hands-on work whenever needed, helps build trust that contributes to consistently high performance. He also praises the county’s support for professional development, such as awarding a 5% pay raise for each new certification or licensure and creating an assistant lead position.

“I would not be in this role without that position,” he says. “When I started here, we didn’t have assistant leads. It’s a learning and developing tool. It’s a good stepping stone for someone who wants to get into management. It gives them a true taste of my job. They work alongside me for a year and see what I do. We have a lot of support from management. There are clear stepping stones you can take for a growth path. That helps retention.”

Lee County’s commitment to OneOrg, an operations principle that makes sure everyone is working toward the same goal regardless of department or position level, is one of Matuska’s favorite aspects of his job.

“We’re all one unit. Our senior management team definitely instills the OneOrg principles in everything they do. It creates camaraderie and teamwork. The dedication, the management support, and the OneOrg principles are a lot of what helped us win the award.”


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