Though no blame is placed on any one entity, a recent after action report from water consultant Dr. Stuart Jeffcoat of CH2M Hill indicates there are problems with the operation of the Fayette County Water System and the board chairman is saying that something will be done in the coming days.
As it is the county has to respond to the report from the Environmental Protection Division inspector placed which the county in the “concerned performance” category, listing at least 10 problems that will need to be resolved and noting an intention to file a formal complaint to the Georgia Secretary of State and the State Board of Examiners for Certification of Water and Wastewater Treatment Plan Operators and Laboratory Analysts to investigate the actions of several key water system employees, including water system director Tony Parrot, Russell Ray (Assistant Water Director), Bill McKinley (Water Plant Manager), Derek Broce (Water Plant Maintenance), and Darrell Hallford (Water Plant Manager).
Jeffcoat’s report was equally blistering, as he indicated what steps were -and weren’t - taken that lead to the most recent mishap, the rising manganese levels in the county’s water supply, causing discoloration and that led to the closure of the South Fayette Water Treatment Plant.
The elemental form of manganese does not occur naturally in the environment, but is a component of over 100 minerals. Manganese is a naturally occurring element in soil, air, water and food, at low levels. In part, manganese occurs with the decomposition of organic matter. According to Jeffcoat’s report, when he visited the water treatment plant to review the treatment process and assist in mitigating the manganese levels, he was told by the staff that the total manganese in the raw water from Lake Horton was 0.77 mg/L.
“However, this value was not the true raw water sample from Lake Horton, but actually the water at the wet well in the raw water pump station at the raw water reservoir located at the South Fayette water treatment plant.” Jeffcoat recommended that the plant staff take samples directly at the Lake Horton intake to verify the manganese levels coming into the raw water reservoir.
Additionally, the staff had been taking water samples from Lake Horton via a middle gate on the intake structure, when “it is well established that higher manganese levels are often present at deeper water levels. The plant staff indicated that the previous drought conditions had significantly reduced the water level in Lake Horton, and the ‘middle gate’ was the gate that allowed the plant to withdraw water from as close to the water surface as possible. However, with extreme amounts of precipitation in the area during 2013, the water level in Lake Horton has returned to a more normal water surface elevation, and the county had not adjusted which gate was open for the withdrawal of raw water for treatment. Also, a request for a set of record drawings for the intake structure couldn’t be provided because the records weren’t there. The consultant had the county begin withdrawing water from the highest intake gate level to allow the low manganese level from Horton’s surface to flow into a wet well.
As the wet well at the Lake Horton raw water pump station nd raw water reservoir at the water treatment plant had been filled with water containing high levels of manganese, it was hard to tell what was working yet.
Another indication of a problem at the South Fayette plant was the fact that the operations staff at the plant were incorrectly reporting the total manganese. Again, the plant operators who had been performing testing didn’t notice that the levels on the meter they were reading and indicated a warning of elevated manganese levels.
“This incorrect reporting of the total manganese level had an extreme impact on the lingering effect of the manganese issue in the treatment process as the plant staff was not treating for the correct level of manganese coming into the plant.”
Additionally, soluble manganese testing was not part of the standard operating procedure at the South Fayette plant, and the plant staff has typically set the treatment process around the total manganese value. Also, when CH2M Hill requested the vacuum pump and filter paper at the Crosstown plant be delivered to the South Fayette plant, the filters were of the wrong size, but did allow for “at least a reasonable approximation of the soluble manganese in the raw water. The results of the soluble manganese testing indicated that there was approximately 2 mg/L in soluble form, which was a significant cause for concern as the soluble manganese must be removed through oxidation or adsorption onto the filter media.
“The South Fayette plant is equipped with the ability to feed chlorine dioxide, potassium permanganate, and chlorine as potential treatment technologies for the oxidation and removal of soluble manganese. However, based on reports from the plant operation staff, the chlorine dioxide generation system was not in service and therefore, not available as a treatment option for manganese oxidation.”
Samples taken from the new reservoir in Lake McIntosh to assess that manganese level. Once it was determined, the decision was made to to open the gate and begin pumping raw water from Lake McIntosh to ensure that the high manganese levels from Lake Horton didn’t further compromise the treatment at the Crosstown plant.
“One of the primary reasons for the slow response to the treatment changes was the inability to bypass the raw water reservoir at the South Fayette water treatment plant. The raw water reservoir at the plant had previously been filled with several million gallons of high manganese water while the ‘middle gate’ at the Lake Horton intake had been open. Therefore, the raw water currently in the reservoir needed to be diluted with low manganese water from Lake Horton now that the ‘upper gate’ had been
The report on the Crosstown plant wasn’t any better.
“Through a review of the operational logs from overnight, it became apparent that during the night shift at the plant the pre-chlorine feed dropped significantly as the chlorine cylinder was depleted and the
automatic switchover to a fresh chlorine cylinder failed. As a result of the night shift
operator’s failure to ensure the continuous application of pre-chlorine during treatment, the pre-chlorine dosage at the plant dropped below 0.5 mg/L at the raw water application point, and given the high levels of soluble manganese in the raw water, this low prechlorine dosage did not provide adequate treatment to ensure removal of the soluble manganese across the filters at the Crosstown water treatment plant.” The result, said Jeffcoat, was that the Crosstown plant had to be shut down too.
As he gave his report, Jeffcoat also took issue to statements made by county commissioner David Barlow in recent media reports, pointing out that in several instances Barlow had taken things out of context.
“First, the statement made by Commissioner Barlow regarding the cause of the extreme levels of manganese in Lake Horton is not entirely correct. The news article included the following quote from Commissioner Barlow regarding what caused the higher levels of manganese in the lake, ‘The filling of the lake inundated all the vegetative growth of grass, trees, and brush that had grown in the lake bed the last two years. As it decomposes, this growth creates a higher level of manganese in the lake.’
“This statement is partly accurate as the decomposition of organic matter consumes oxygen and thus creates a reducing condition that releases carbon dioxide that lowers the pH in the water source so that increased levels of soluble manganese are found. However, this decomposition of the organic matter is only moderately tied to the lake level increasing due to the extreme precipitation over the past several months.
“A more accurate statement would have been that recent rain events have increased the water surface in Lake Horton and thus, resulted in the intake gate previously utilized for the withdrawal of raw water to now be at a lower depth in the lake where there was a more depressed dissolved oxygen level and thus, a higher soluble manganese concentration.
“Secondly, a statement was included in the article in which Commissioner Barlow said that he specifically asked Stuart Jeffcoat ‘if there were any procedures that he would have initiated had he been onsite since the inception of the manganese problem and he told me emphatically ‘no’.
“This statement was taken out of context as Dr. Jeffcoat had only been at the South Fayette water treatment plant for a short period of time prior to Commissioner Barlow’s visit, and he had not completed his analysis of the plant operation at this point.”
Once Jeffcoat had completed a thorough review of the plant operation and the water quality conditions in Lake Horton, he initiated significant changes to address the treatment issues related to the elevated manganese levels that had not previously been undertaken by the county’s staff in mitigating the manganese issues earlier in the week.
In part, Jeffcoat’s conclusions and recommendations include “the County complete a thorough assessment of both the South Fayette and Crosstown water treatment plants to develop a capital improvement program, as well as an asset renewal and rehabilitation program, to address equipment and treatment issues. This will allow the County to be more proactive in mitigating further water quality excursions.”
Board chairman Steve Brown said the board was going to give county administrator the task of investigating the situation.
“You don’t fool around with the drinking water,” said Brown. “From my perspective, we’re going to have to work quickly and decisively to resolve the problems. There’s no excuse for not testing the water properly or not keeping up with the maintenance of the facilities.”
Brown says he expects to have more information for the board to make any personnel decisions within the week.