June 24, 2020

Water Resources overcomes power outage during Memorial Day weekend

How was your Memorial Day weekend? The folks working in Clermont County’s Water Resources Department’s water treatment plants had an eventful weekend, for sure.

Because the demand for water never stops, plant operators reported to work like any other day.

As thunderstorms began to pop up on Saturday, May 23, the operators at the county’s three water treatment plants kept close watch. Experience has shown them that lightning and electrical equipment don’t play well together.

While lightning storms regularly cause power flickers and occasional surges that damage equipment, this particular storm caused catastrophic damage to major equipment.

In the midst of the storm, the Bob McEwen Water Treatment Plant near East Fork State Park lost total power.

A maintenance technician was called in to help assess any damage. The emergency backup generator at the plant was turned on but that did not solve all the problems. Duke Energy was called and a few hours later responded, after the maintenance technician discovered that Duke needed to reset some of their equipment out on the street. Duke’s equipment was reset and power was restored to the plant but the pumps at the raw water intake (a couple miles away from the plant) still would not run.

After diagnosing potential problems, it was assumed that a transformer was the cause of the power loss. The maintenance technician called an electrical contractor to confirm their suspicions and see if the contractor could find a replacement transformer.

But this was now Sunday morning on a holiday weekend. The electrical contractor confirmed what the maintenance technician suspected. Unfortunately, they wouldn’t be able to do anything until Tuesday morning since all their suppliers would be closed.

Meanwhile, the operators at the plant were juggling the treatment plant, avoiding any treatment violations while trying to treat and pump out as much water as possible while not being able to bring in any additional raw water.

The plant that was out of service is typically responsible for 30-50 percent of the total system production during this time of year.

The operators at the other plants were keeping an eye on the water demand in the system while trying to increase their pumping rates knowing that the likelihood of an extended outage at one plant means the demand on the other plants will certainly be maxed out.

Demand for water on Sunday and Monday didn’t decrease and water levels in the system slowly beginning to drop. Several changes were made to pumping strategies and valve positions in an effort to maintain pressure across the entire system.

As Tuesday morning came, the system had limped along avoiding depressurization but the problem still needed to be solved. The electrical contractor informed the county that a replacement transformer may take days, if not weeks, to find, transport, and install. The decision was quickly made to rent a mobile generator while a permanent solution was found. That was a major undertaking but by early Tuesday evening, the generator (which has to be refueled at least once every day) was hooked up and running.

Now the operators had to restart the plant ensuring everything was meeting EPA regulations which was no small task after being down for roughly three days. In addition to getting the plant back online, all the samples that normally are collected throughout the day had to be collected and analyzed within a few hours.

Keep in mind that this is the longest shut down of the plant since it was put in service in 1995.

Many options were considered and eventually a new transformer was found locally and arrangements were made to have it transported and installed as soon as possible. The transformer arrived in the afternoon on Friday, May 29. The plant once again had to be shut down so the generator could be disconnected and the new transformer reconnected.

By late afternoon on Saturday, everything was back up and running. The operators once again had to restart the treatment process and collect samples.

Looking back on the events of the week, the maintenance staff, operators, supervisors, and managers all performed exceedingly well in the face of adversity.

To repeat a phrase we’ve been hearing all too often lately, this was truly an unprecedented time.

So the next time you have a long holiday weekend and turn on the faucet to wash your hands or get a glass of water to drink, think kindly of the Water Resources Department staff because they will still be working.