Fayette’s ‘water’ gate problem: operator errors with intake, tests led to both plants’ shutdown
Problems with high manganese levels that shut down both of Fayette County’s water treatment plants in the same week have been attributed to several operator errors, according to a report from the consulting engineer who helped fix the problem.
The Aug. 5 shutdown of the South Fayette plant was attributed to inaccurate readings of raw water testing and use of an incorrect intake gate on Lake Horton, according to consulting engineer Dr. Stuart Jeffcoat of CH2M Hill, who diagnosed the problems and allowed both plants to re-open.
Likewise the Aug. 9 shutdown of the Crosstown plant pointed to further operator error, as the overnight plant operator didn’t notice lower chlorination levels when a chlorine cylinder went empty and the automatic switchover to a new cylinder failed.
The crisis began Aug. 5 when water system employees took inaccurate manganese readings of raw water at Lake Horton, missing an error message that should have triggered a change in the machine’s settings due to high manganese content in the sample, Jeffcoat said in a written analysis of the problems.
Another major mistake was the use of the “middle” water intake gate at Lake Horton instead of using the “high” gate, Jeffcoat explained. The manganese content of water near the lake surface was far lower than the water pulled from the middle gate, Jeffcoat said.
The problem led to the South Fayette plant being shut down for three days as the situation was ameliorated. The Crosstown plant avoided the manganese problem initially as Jeffcoat had county crews turn off the supply line from Lake Horton and open the high gate at the Lake McIntosh reservoir.
The Crosstown plant developed the high manganese problem the morning of Aug. 9, and after the low chlorination error was spotted, several steps were undertaken that allowed the plant to re-open Aug. 12.
The string of operator errors in the manganese crisis came days after the Georgia Environmental Protection Division issued a scathing report listing 10 violations of safe drinking water rules resulting from a “sanitary survey” of the water system conducted in June by EPD.
Along with listing 147 deficiencies in the water system, the EPD report called for a probe of Water System Director Tony Parrott and four other water system employees to determine if they “practiced fraud or deception,” or perhaps instead were “incompetent or unable to perform their duties properly.” That investigation would be undertaken by the Georgia Secretary of State’s office and also the State Board of Examiners for Certification of Water and Wastewater Treatment Plant Operators and Laboratory Analysts.
EPD says the probe should target five water system employees: System Director Tony Parrott, Assistant Water Director Russell Ray, Water Plant Manager Bill McKinley, and water plant maintenance staffers Derek Broce and Darrell Hallford.
EPD’s sanitary survey was undertaken on the heels of an extended problem with taste and odor problems with the water that began in May and lasted for several weeks.
The EPD report noted that at the Crosstown plant, several of the filters’ media had separated from the wall and had “excessive mudball formation.”
“This is a sign of ineffective backwashing and poor maintenance,” according to EPD’s report. Because of this, EPD is requiring the water system to conduct “a complete filter evaluation on all of the filters by a licensed professional engineer.”
Four of the plant’s filters had leaking valves and another filter had “been out of service for six months,” according to the report.
The largest-reaching rule violation cited by EPD alleges that the water system failed to “ensure that the drinking water should not contain any contaminant which will adversely affect the odor or appearance of the drinking water and consequently may cause a substantial number of the persons served by the public water system to discontinue its use or which may adversely affect the public welfare.”
Among the rule violations listed by the EPD are:
• Failure to provide daily continuous disinfectant residual readings for the last three years;
• Failure to employ a Class I Water Operator to be the official in charge of day to day operations of the Crosstown and South Fayette water plants;
• Failure to record the results of individual filter monitoring every 15 minutes; the turbidimeters at the Crosstown plant were not calibrated between Feb. and Oct. 2012 though they are required to be conducted quarterly;
• Failure of the continuous turbidity monitoring equipment, specifically at filter no. 5 at the Crosstown plant which was out for more than five days “and the water plant personnel were unaware this situation existed until it was brought to their attention. The monthly operating report did not indicate a problem with any of the filters,” which is also a reporting violation; and
• Failure to properly conduct analysis of the daily concentration of chlorite due to the improper use of a particular gas used in the process.
Other rule violations were as mundane as failure to have a business plan for the water system and a failure to keep copies of “any written reports, summaries or communications relating to sanitary surveys of the system conducted by the system itself, by a private consultant, or by any local, state or federal agency. The sanitary survey documents are required to be kept for at least 10 years, according to EPD.
The county is seeking proposals from engineering companies who wish to provide consulting services for the water system. For years and years, that guidance and specialized assistance has been handled by Mallet Consulting.
When the smelly and bad-tasting water issues arose in May and lingered for weeks, the county entered an emergency contract for engineering consulting services with CH2M Hill. That company is the former employer of current County Manager Steve Rapson.