Treatment Facility Response to Covid-19

May 27, 2020

The measures that treatment facilities and operators are taking during the time of this virus (COVID-19) are not typical and may seem drastic. However, the actions they are taking help ensure the continuation of water supply and wastewater treatment.

Most of the treatment facilities have gone into total isolation, not allowing entrance or departure by anyone. This is to keep the virus from spreading into the facilities. Operators are currently living in their treatment facilities and are not making face-to-face contact with anyone, including their families.

In addition to the normal plant operations, the water treatment process is its own complex process and in the current situation, the staff in water treatment are having to take extra precautions. I have talked with operators at Lenoir City Utilities Board (LCUB); the steps that they have taken include locking two operators in the plant and leaving one operator out as a “runner”. The job of the runner is to handle operations at an alternative treatment facility that is not manned 24/7, clean and perform maintenance at the raw water intake, and collect samples throughout the system for standard bacteriological evaluation. The operators within the plant continue normal work such as chemical feed, laboratory testing, and distribution system monitoring. They have increased the amount of scheduled cleaning and maintenance.

The wastewater facilities have also taken measures to isolate within the treatment facilities. These measures are just as important as locking down the water treatment facility. Without the wastewater treatment facility operating at full capacity, the collection systems of towns across the southeast would reach capacity rapidly (sometimes within a day). The discussions I had with LCUB operators indicated that the wastewater treatment facility is also operating with two operators locked in the facility. These operators are also handling a heavy workload with normal operations, as well as dealing with an increase in maintenance, an increase in rag production, and flow differences. Because of the stay at home order, issued by the Governor, many facilities are facing these same challenges. Just as the entire population adapted to a new, temporary way of life by being at home more, wastewater facilities have the same fight with adapting to the many changes that show up in their facilities.

I think it is important during these times to say thank you and to show our support as a community to all the operators. They have made great sacrifices during this time to ensure STRONGER, HAPPIER COMMUNITIES. So, from all of us here at LDA Engineering and throughout our community, thank you for what you are doing and the sacrifices you are making.

Cory Newman, EI, is an Engineer/Scientist I at LDA.  He has a bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering and is a Certified Grade III Treatment Plant Operator.