Up the Ladder

Through private and public sector experiences, Bob Leible moved steadily upward to an award-winning career in water treatment leadership

Up the Ladder

Bob Leible, superintendent of water production at the Aurora (Illinois) Water Treatment Facility

Robert “Bob” Leible began his path in the drinking water profession right out of college.

After earning his bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Bradley University, he applied for a job with the St. Louis (Missouri) Water Division. He was hired as an analytical chemist at the city’s Chain of Rocks Water Treatment Plant, which was close to his home.

With 13 years of experience in drinking water and related fields, Leible was hired by the Aurora (Illinois) Water Production Division in 2005. He served as chemistry laboratory manager for two years before being promoted to assistant superintendent of water production. He stepped up to superintendent of water production in November 2022.

In Aurora, Leible has made substantial contributions to water quality and received a 2021 Operator Meritorious Award from the Illinois Section AWWA. In nominating him for the award, Aurora’s then-superintendent of water production, David Schumacher, P.E. wrote, “Mr. Leible has completed numerous improvement and efficiency projects for the drinking water supply infrastructure system as well as guiding, directing and managing the daily treatment decisions.”

His contributions include signing the city up for the Partnership for Safe Water, ensuring continuous fluoridation of treated water, monitoring all water treatment processes, improving lime slaker system efficiency, and others.

“I was certainly caught off guard when I was nominated and then again when I won,” Leible says. “I still can’t get over the effort Dave put into writing my nomination form.”

A varied career

Born in 1960, Leible grew up in a suburb of St. Louis in a modest two-bedroom home. “I’m an only child,” he says. “My mom was a stay-at-home mom. My dad worked for the General Motors car assembly plant in St. Louis. It was a pretty simple life.”

He attended Riverview Gardens High School. “I took chemistry in my senior year,” he recalls. “I liked it and did pretty well.” After high school and college, in his job with St. Louis, he performed gas chromatography, atomic absorption, wet chemistry and microbiological analyses. After four years there he joined the 7 Up soda company as a quality assurance analyst.

“St. Louis had a residency requirement that just didn’t work for me,” Leible says. “So, I went to the private sector, testing samples of 7 Up, and eventually Dr. Pepper as well. The samples were sent to corporate QA from bottling plants across America for testing to ensure that their quality and flavors were consistent.”

After leaving 7 Up because “The job got pretty repetitive,” Leible performed lab tests on Superfund contaminated site samples at a commercial environmental laboratory. During that time he earned an MBA from Maryville University.

Leible jokes, “Since my wife had her MBA, I thought, ‘I gotta keep up with you.’ So I went and got my MBA, too.” An opportunity to re-enter the drinking water industry led him to Indiana American Water, where he supervised water quality and treatment for several water plants. Then he was hired as an assistant superintendent of water production in Phoenix, Arizona.

Although he liked that job, living in the hot Phoenix desert as a transplanted Midwesterner was “kind of a culture shock. It was just too different from what I had grown up with climate-wise. That’s why I took the job in Aurora when it became available.”

A progressive history

The Aurora Water Treatment Facility where Leible has spent the last 17 years serves a population of about 200,000. The city’s first water distribution system was founded by Samuel Carty in the late 1840s, using a natural spring to fill a gravity-fed wooden water main.

In 1886, the Aurora City Water Works opened on an island in the Fox River. Water was drawn from a 20-foot-deep channel carved into the island’s gravel bed, which was used as a natural filtering system. In 1889 the average water draw was 0.8 mgd.

The city abandoned that system in 1892, switching to a 1,400-foot-deep well to supply an 1895 daily average of 1.96 mgd. By 1929 the city had 12 deep wells. Four years later, a water tower was built (demolished in 2012 in a project Leible managed). In addition, a 9 mgd pumping station was built, and several miles of 12-, 14- and 16-inch water mains were laid. Further upgrades and expansions were done in 1963, 1989 and 2002.

Fast forward to today. The Aurora Water Treatment Facility has a 42 mgd capacity, although the peak draw on the system, in summer, is only 22 mgd. The water is processed using five 60-foot-diameter CBI Walker ClariCone units (McDermott), 12 filters and 6.3 million gallons of clearwell capacity. About 60% of the raw water supply comes from the Fox River; the rest from 15 deep and six shallow wells.

The raw water is treated with powdered activated carbon, aeration, cationic polymer, and ferric chloride before entering the ClariCone clarifier/softener units, where lime and anionic polymer are added. The lime is slaked with a PLC-controlled batch system (RDP/Tekkem).

Peristaltic pumps (ProMinent) dose the slaked lime to start the lime softening process. The water then flows into helical flow recarbonation tanks to reduce the pH, and then the water is filtered through 12 dual media filters comprised of granular activated carbon and sand. The GAC is leased from the Calgon Carbon Corporation.

The water then receives infusions of fluoride and chlorine for disinfection as it enters the clearwells. Anhydrous ammonia is added to convert the chlorine to chloramines before the finished water is pumped via nine Flowserve/Byron Jackson 100 or 200 hp vertical turbine pumps into elevated towers, and finally to thirsty Aurora customers.

Numerous online Hach analytical instruments monitor all stages of the treatment process. The data is collected by programmable logic controllers (Rockwell Automation) that are part of the existing SCADA system.

A capable staff

Leible is one of 29 water professionals at the Aurora facility, all of whom play key roles. “I am not an engineer, so I manage water production operations at this facility, but we have several engineers who manage the engineering duties for the entire team to be successful,” he says.

Schumacher, his predecessor as superintendent, is an environmental/civil engineer with a professional engineering license and a Class A water treatment certification. Trent Huber is water operations supervisor, and Chris Olson is maintenance supervisor. They have Class A certificates and worked their way up from operator positions. The lab manager is Megan Luers.

“All of them are very dedicated team members, which is why the city has won many water quality awards over the years,” Leible says.

One thing that Leible values about his staff is their depth of institutional knowledge: “Both Trent and Chris have been working at this plant since it opened in 1992. It’s a real luxury to have people on staff with such a wealth of institutional knowledge. It really pays off when you need to find out details that may not be easy to figure out, from certain valves that may be hard to find, to how the system has evolved over the years. It helps me do my job better.”

Future Plans

At this point, Leible has no plans to retire, even though he marked his 62nd birthday in September. He intends to continue doing his best to keep Aurora’s drinking water safe, clean, and pleasant to drink. He remarks, “It has been a good career that I’ve enjoyed so far, even though I never planned to get into water when I was young.”


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