Report: Operators’ errors caused Fayette’s water problems
Several errors by workers at Fayette County’s two water treatment plants resulted in high manganese readings that led to the shutdown of both plants within days of each other, according to a report filed last week by the county’s special consulting engineer.
That outside engineer, Dr. Stuart Jeffcoat of CH2M Hill, told water system employees what they were doing wrong and led them through a multitude of steps to counteract the manganese levels and ultimately reopen both plants.
The errors at the South Fayette plant included inaccurate manganese testing of raw water prior to it entering the treatment process and use of an incorrect water intake gate on Lake Horton, Jeffcoat wrote.
Manganese is an element that in trace amounts is a vital nutrient for humans but can be poisonous in amounts many times larger than those registered at the local water plants. The state Environmental Protection Division said last week that Fayette’s drinking water was safe to drink at all times during the system’s operational troubles.
The problem at the Crosstown plant was attributed to the overnight plant operator missing an equipment failure which led to a drop in chlorination levels as a chlorine tank went empty and the automatic switchover to a new tank failed, Jeffcoat said. The lack of chlorination allowed the manganese levels in the treated water to rise and resulted in the Crosstown plant shutdown, Jeffcoat wrote.
The errors led to the South Fayette plant being shut down for four days starting Aug. 5. Just as the manganese problem cleared up at the South Fayette plant Aug. 9, the manganese levels began to spike at the Crosstown plant, resulting in a shutdown for more than a day, Jeffcoat wrote. It took an extra day’s worth of remediation before the county could resume pumping water from the Crosstown plant back into the system, Jeffcoat said.
Last week, The Citizen revealed a recommendation from the EPD that Water System Director Tony Parrott and four other employees be investigated to determine if they “practiced fraud or deception” or instead were “incompetent or unable to perform their duties properly.”
That recommendation was part of a sanitary system review conducted by EPD that documented 147 deficiencies, 31 of which dealt with equipment that needed to be repaired, modified or installed at the Crosstown plant alone.
The recommendation for the probe of Parrott and four other employees was an “uncommon” step for EPD to take, but “not out of the norm,” according to EPD Drinking Water Program Manager Ted Jackson.
The Fayette County Commission is waiting on the return of County Administrator Steve Rapson to determine if any action needs to take place in the wake of the EPD report and Jeffcoat’s after-action report on the manganese problems.
It is possible that the county could challenge the EPD’s findings, but there is some amount of behind-the-scenes pressure to fire Parrott, who has run the department since the 1980s. At Thursday’s county commission meeting, Commissioner David Barlow undertook a vigorous defense of Parrott, saying the allegations against him had not been proven.
EPD’s sanitary system review was conducted June 17, shortly after the odor and taste problems that plagued the system for a number of weeks before subsiding after Jeffcoat’s work with water system employees.
The EPD’s review noted that four of the Crosstown plant’s filters had leaking valves and another “had been out of service for six months.”
Several of the filters showed signs of “ineffective backwashing and poor maintenance,” according to EPD.
EPD also cited the water system for 10 violations of the state’s drinking water rules.
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 include:
• 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.
Some of the deficiencies at Crosstown WTP were related to disposal of empty chemical containers and appropriate labeling of chemical packages along with labeling certain equipment. The water system must also establish a training program to “bring all operators up to date with operations of the plant, current regulations and safety procedures.”
Although deficiencies were also identified at the South Fayette Water Treatment Plant, they were not as extensive or intensive as the list for the Crosstown WTP. At the South Fayette WTP, deficiencies included updating and recording of all maintenance activities, labeling all chemical bulk storage and day tanks, evaluating media depth in filters and replenishing to design specifications and removal of chemicals, cleaning equipment and supplies from the electrical room.
The county already has a request for proposals out to select a regular consulting engineer for the water system. That role for years has been served by Mallett Consulting, and in a letter to the county commission recently, Mallett President David Jaeger noted that while the company has been “fully involved” in the system’s growth, “there has been very little participation with respect to daily operation.”
Mallett’s role has chiefly been overseeing design, construction and expansion of both water plants, dams and reservoirs, pump stations, water lines, storage tanks and the like, Jaeger wrote.
In reference to the taste and odor problems that started in May and the recent manganese trouble, Jaeger wrote that the company has “a strong desire to be a part of the solution.”