In managing a household, there are certain occurrences that cause massive inconveniences, one of which is a toilet that is not working correctly.
Imagine, instead of one toilet not working, the entire city’s were malfunctioning. The wastewater treatment facility for the Town of West Jefferson recently found itself in just that situation.
“It was playing havoc with the way the plant operates,” said David Hamilton, Town of West Jefferson Utilities Director discussing the situation the town’s treatment facility faced.
According to Hamilton, a type of filamentous bacteria had infiltrated the treatment plant and hindered the plant’s ability to properly treat its wastewater.
Plant operators, said Hamilton, knew something was amiss while performing their daily testing of the treated wastewater.
When testing the daily samples to ensure the plant is operating within established state guidelines, a measure of treated wastewater is pulled from the system, said Hamilton. It is then allowed to settle for a specific period of time. If the system is operating properly, a “settling” occurs, said Hamilton.
That settling, he said, is the separation of liquids from solids. When the settling doesn’t happen, there is something wrong with the system.
These types of situations can occur without warning but the treatment facility for West Jefferson has the equipment it needs to diagnose the problem, said Hamilton.
The first step is looking at the treated wastewater under a microscope, looking for the bacteria that can cause the problem.
When plant technicians looked at the wastewater under the microscope, it was clean, or free of the bacteria that causes the problem.
“We were puzzled…we knew something was wrong,” said Hamilton.
In an effort to find a solution, the facility sent samples of wastewater to the N.C. Rural Water Association and Maryland Biochemical to retest the samples, he said.
“We were all pretty surprised,” said Hamilton when they got the results back – the bacteria was there. The problem was the equipment at the facility couldn’t see it.
A broken microscope had prevented the plant’s technicians from seeing the problem, said Hamilton.
Once the problem was identified, technicians worked quickly to get the plant’s chemistry back in balance by increasing the cholrination in the system and adding “good” bacteria.
Within a matter of days, the system was again operating within state guidelines.
That ability to find solutions when problems occur within the system also allow the team at the plant to adapt when dealing with the town’s water system.
Just recently, said Hamilton, the town had temporarily stopped tapping one of its primary water sources, the natural spring located near Mount Jefferson, because of low flows.
Those low flows allow air into the town water supply system. When air enters the lines, said Hamilton, it creates a “scouring” effect. That increases the level of “turbidity” or cloudiness in the water.
The state turbidity standards are so stringent, he said, the naked eye could not determine the difference between two vials of water, one of which wouldn’t meet the standard.
Despite closing off the Mount Jefferson spring for water, the town is in no danger of running dry.
There are, said Hamilton, 11 wells maintained by the town which are continuously monitored and turned on and off when needed to keep the town’s storage tanks at their optimum levels.
For Hamilton and his team at the plant, each day carries with it an awesome responsibility.
“We don’t want people getting sick because we’re not doing our jobs,” he said.