Building a Better Water Distribution System

Powdersville focuses on system optimization and takes big steps forward.
Building a Better Water Distribution System
The Powdersville Water District management team includes Executive Director Dyke Spencer (seated) with (from left) accounting specialist Donnis Chapetta, financial services manager Terressa Batson and financial director Gordon Brush.

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South Carolina’s Powdersville Water District was the first water utility in the state — and only the 11th in the nation — to receive the prized Directors Award in the Partnership for Safe Water Distribution System Optimization Program. And if you ask Operations and Maintenance Superintendent Chris Rasco, it’s all due to the people.

“You have to have 100 percent buy-in from your staff in order to be successful,” Rasco says. “In our case, we’re all in.”

Using monthly meetings that can last up to three hours, a cross-cut of employees from various departments at PWD discuss goals and agree on projects and directions the district undertakes.

“All 23 employees are on board and remain passionate about what we do for a living,” Rasco says of his staff. “We made the commitment (to fulfill the requirements of the System Optimization Program) and we are tasting success. We all have input, and we learn from each other.”

He also credits the American Water Works Association and Powdersville’s executive director for their support. “They were a great resource,” he says.

A little history

The Powdersville Water District was formed in 1971. It supplies an average of 3.5 mgd of high-quality water to approximately 12,500 connections through a 400-mile distribution network. Storage is 3.6 million gallons and consists of a relatively new 1-million-gallon elevated tank, two 300,000-gallon elevated tanks, and two 1-million-gallon ground storage tanks.

Source water is supplied by Greenville Water, which pumps from Lake Keowee; the Anderson Regional Joint Water System, which draws from Lake Hartwell; and the Easley Combined Utilities, which pumps from Saluda Lake.

Because of the hilly terrain and supply connections located at a higher elevation than the rest of the system, the district is completely gravity fed from the three sources. The district maintains one pump station merely to shave peak flows in the morning and afternoon hours.

The service area is located along the Interstate 85 corridor between Charlotte and Atlanta and is growing rapidly. As a bedroom community for Anderson and Greenville, Powdersville is seeing numerous new subdivisions and commercial developments opening each year. “We’re busier than ever,” Rasco says. “Our workload has easily doubled in the past two years.” But Rasco’s team hasn’t had to add more personnel. “Everyone rolls up their sleeves and wears many hats,” he says. “The majority of the staff manages numerous duties that go beyond their original job description.”

It wasn’t always this way. When the district was formed more than 40 years ago, founding members of the organization went door to door selling taps in order to obtain enough customers to qualify for loans to fund the new system.

Optimization efforts

The Directors Award from the Partnership for Safe Water recognizes water utilities that have voluntarily optimized treatment plant performance or distribution system operations in order to provide superior-quality water to all users. At Powdersville, the optimization process has been the standard since it became a special purpose district in 2001. From metering upgrades to storage and distribution line improvements, from SCADA overhauls to dealing with high pressure, Powdersville is constantly working on ways to improve the delivery of water and service to its customers.

In 2008, the district converted from manual to drive-by radio read metering and more recently has been moving to a fully automated metering infrastructure system. Rasco recalls that the district first had to change out 7,000 old meters before it could switch to radio read and decided to do the work in-house. The move sped up the project by several months and also saved customers more than $250,000.

“Now we’re quickly moving toward a completed AMI system with readings transmitted through line-of-sight antennas,” Rasco says. “This will give us the ability to communicate with customers and be more proactive. We’ll be able to contact customers about possible water leaks discovered through monitoring, conserving water and thereby saving them money. It will eliminate the nasty phone calls for extremely high water bills.

“(AMI) turns customer service on its head,” he adds.

Sensus is supplying the new AMI network, and Powdersville uses a Tyler Technologies billing system.

The utility has also upgraded its SCADA system with the consulting assistance of Glenmount Global Solutions of Charleston.

In another important move to automate the distribution system, Powdersville is using Telog Instruments for mobile pressure readings. “We used to use basic data loggers,” Rasco explains. “We would put them out in the system, let them run for a few weeks, then go back out and retrieve the data.”

The Telog units have changed all that. Rasco says the units let his staff know what’s going on in the field instantaneously — either by texting, emailing or phoning a message to the operators. “We receive alerts based on our set high- and low-pressure limits as well as unit integrity,” he explains. “Now if a battery dies in the field, we receive an alert rather than losing days worth of data (with the old system) and then scratching our heads over what happened.”

Rasco says his crews sampled several mobile pressure readers but didn’t find any that were as reliable as Telog. “We have 12 of them,” he says, adding that customer service from the supplier has been very responsive.

The recorders perform a vital function in the Powdersville system because pressures are a big issue.

“Due to our varying hilly terrain, we have high system pressures,” Rasco says, explaining this is a primary cause for leaks and breaks. To address the problem, Powdersville has identified high-pressure areas and installed regional pressure-reduction valves that have reduced system pressures in some cases from about 165 psi to 100 psi. Leaks and breaks due to excessive pressure have been reduced to near zero in areas protected by these valves, he says.

Pipe replacement is another tool. Rasco explains that as new installations are added, pressures have increased and old thin-wall PVC pipe has been replaced with more robust ductile iron.

“This was pipe that had outlived its useful life,” he explains. “We identified these areas through our leak counts and by using hydraulic modeling. We have included the replacements and upgrades in our annual capital improvement program.” The result is a reliable water main with a designed fire flow and better service to rapidly developed areas served by the system.

Source water

While Powdersville is blessed with abundant water supplies from three different sources, the mixture presents another challenge that the district has dealt with successfully.

“Each of our three suppliers uses a different disinfection method,” Rasco says. “One uses gaseous chlorine, another chloramines, and the third uses the MIOX process.”

Blending those waters with varying types of disinfectants can result in undesirable reactions, so Powdersville created four distinct pressure zones, forming physical barriers that keep the feed waters separate. “If the free chlorine interacted with the free ammonia from the chloraminated system, chloramine would form and we would lose our measurable free chlorine residual,” Rasco explains. The system of valves and barriers prevents the different feed waters from coming in contact with each other.

“It’s like mini-systems inside the larger water system,” he explains.

Rasco says his system maintains a chlorine residual of around 0.5 ppm, a bit higher than the state requirement of 0.3 ppm. These levels were decided on through the DSO process.
Hach instruments monitor the disinfectant levels at the various tanks and entry points. As with Telog, Rasco says Powdersville is pleased with the customer service and response from Hach.

The DSO program is not the only improvement process at Powdersville. The district created its own in-house water evaluation and auditing program that tracks non-revenue water using AWWA-approved methods.

“We employ an annual water audit patterned after the IWA format,” Rasco says, explaining that the data helps in his team’s overall efforts to identify leaks and breaks.

The improvements at Powdersville are the result of communication and interaction among the staff. Rasco says the monthly meetings are spent discussing needs based on goals that the team has identified. Once the DSO assessment was completed, action items were identified with scheduled completion dates. The team continues to work toward completion of these items to attain full system optimization.

“Using a cost-of-service rate model, we update our financial plan each year that includes forecasted needs for 10 years into the future,” Rasco explains. “We use this financial model to ensure that our rates (going forward) are adequate to meet our operational capital needs.”

Powdersville has worked with a rate consultant since 2005 to maintain an accurate forecast of its financial needs. All financial plans are adopted by the district’s nine-member board and all actions are properly advertised to the district’s customers. Public board meetings are held monthly and include time for public interactions at every meeting.

“Everyone on our staff understands that the public health and safety of 35,000 people are in their hands,” Rasco says. “We take pride in that. Everyone here cares.”

People make it happen

The old adage “Good people make a good system” is nowhere more relevant than at Powdersville (South Carolina) Water District.

“Six of our operators have earned Level A,” explains Chris Rasco, Operations and Maintenance superintendent. “Plus we have two at Level B, two at Level C, and one at Level D.”
It’s a high percentage of certified state operators, and Rasco is very proud of that fact.

Five years ago, Justin Clemones was named South Carolina AWWA Distribution System Operator of the Year. “He’s a very conscientious, dedicated employee,” Rasco said in an article in MSW magazine at the time. “He’s mechanically inclined, eager to learn, and a quick study. Show him something once and 99 out of 100 times he’ll understand it.”

Others have provided leadership as well, including operations crew leader Stan Johnson, a 15-year veteran of the Powdersville staff. Rasco says Johnson takes it upon himself to get things done. “He’s very dedicated, a self-starter,” says Rasco. “He’s out in the field doing a lot of our project identification, system repair and planning. He’s the one you want on site.”

Another is Tracy Wyatt, construction and development coordinator. “Anytime we have a project, she does everything,” Rasco says. “She is our first line with the developer and the contractor. She also manages our GIS system, makes sure all the money is appropriated correctly, and works with the operations staff helping with compliance.”

Rasco goes on to praise his entire staff — from operators to customer service to finance to metering technicians. “They’re second to none.”


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