Avon Solves Frazil Ice Event with Teamwork, Social Media

Avon Solves Frazil Ice Event with Teamwork, Social Media
An ice frazil event at Avon Lake Regional Water forced creative thinking and inter-department teamwork. Here, a second suction line is installed. All pictures credited to Avon Lake Regional Water.

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For two days in early January, it looked as if customers of Avon Lake (Ohio) Regional Water could be without water, thanks to a rare ice-forming phenomenon that partially blocked water treatment plant intakes. But an all-hands effort, creative thinking and a healthy dose of social media helped avert disaster.

On the evening of Jan. 7, after temperatures dropped to -20 F and with a howling wind creating turbulence on the surface, frazil ice — a collection of loose, randomly formed needles of ice — sent slender shards of ice to the bottom of Lake Erie, directly into Avon Lake’s intake crib. Frazil ice last threatened the water supply five years ago to the day — something utility executives were determined to prevent.

“We knew this could be bad so we had to do something right away,” says Steve Heimlich, Avon Lake water plant manager. “We serve a population of more than 200,000 west of Cleveland that includes parts of seven counties, primarily Lorain and Medina counties. We’re committed to supplying water on a 24/7 basis.”

All hands on deck
Staff quickly reacted with intake flushing, but when water pressure didn’t return to normal, the utility began exploring alternatives. The utility’s 40 employees – including those from the 40 mgd water filtration plant, 6.5 mgd water pollution control center, office staff and the distribution and collection department — took part. Some water plant staff worked to keep operations going, while others focused on resolving the ice crisis. Finally, in an example of cross-functional collaboration, the collections and distribution team suggested a pump-around, a technique Avon Lake had used in other applications.

The utility leased three large diesel-powered Godwin pumps from Xylem, Inc. that could withstand harsh winter conditions and could be hooked up to generators. Then, workers ran suction lines 250 feet across the ice to the pumps, which could each pump 2,000 gallons a minute. Employees who usually worked cutting tree branches and reading meters found themselves cutting ice and working with a diver to place the new intake lines. By 5 a.m. on Jan. 9, all pumps and lines were in place, and the plant was able to meet demand and refill emptied water tanks.

“We were always able to provide some water during the event,” says Todd Danielson, chief utilities executive. “Basically, we provided it only to our 23,000 direct customers within Avon Lake and as we could to one of our neighbors, the City of Avon. Many of the other jurisdictions we serve had alternate connections or were able to put in alternate connections that were able to get them water. The point is we were able to bring multiple perspectives to the problem to get it resolved and keep the water flowing.”

The social media connection
Good communications proved invaluable throughout the emergency. In addition to notifying bulk water customers via phone, Avon Lake used a reverse 911 system called CodeRED to call virtually every customer with a press of a button. The utility also employed social media  — Facebook and Twitter — to keep customers informed.

“We found social media very effective in getting the word out,” says Elana West, community outreach specialist. “We started working with social media for a couple of years, but our Facebook page only had a couple of hundred ‘likes’ prior to the ice crisis, and by the resolution of the frazil ice event, we had well over 1,700 ‘likes.’ More importantly, we reached more than 60,000 people, according to Facebook reports. Customers looked to our posts for information about the situation as opposed to watching TV news, listening to the radio or reading the newspaper.”

Avon Lake Regional Water is now looking for cost-effective, long-term solutions to prevent a recurrence.

“There are a lot of things we could do," says Danielson. "The issue was open water over our intakes, which are only about 20 feet below the surface, so we’re weighing low-cost options to keep us going, as well as more expensive ones. Ultimately, we have to balance the cost of prevention against the risks of this relatively rare phenomenon as we assure our customers’ money is well spent. The best solution will be able to address multiple potential issues.”


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