Thanks to the behind-the-scenes efforts of water and wastewater operators across the country, clean, safe water continued flowing – even amid a global pandemic. Garver launched the Behind-the-Scenes Operators Initiative to give an inside look at what it takes to supply our communities with reliable water services.
Keeping the water on for 300,000 Texans
Managing and operating a regional utility like the Upper Trinity Regional Water District (the District) is no small feat, especially when it consists of two water treatment plants and four water reclamation plants. The District serves a rapidly growing region in North Texas, located primarily in Denton County. The District’s service area includes about 25 communities and around 300,000 people. So, it takes a very skilled and dedicated team to make sure it all works properly and efficiently.
Jody and his operations team do just that every day. Jody has been with the District for 16 years and spent time in both operations and engineering. So, not only does he know what it takes to keep a plant running, but he also knows how to identify the right improvements to keep the plants operating smoothly. Of all the things Jody does, he enjoys working with his team the most. Seeing their dedication and commitment for what they do every day inspires him to work harder for them, making sure they get the support needed to do their job effectively and efficiently.
However, the pandemic limited interactions among operations and caused them to rely on phones and digital platforms like Teams to communicate with each other and hold team meetings. But like any obstacle Jody and his team face, they rose to the challenge during the pandemic as well.
Ben Hodges, Assistant Director of Operations, was instrumental to the District’s COVID response plan. Jody explained that Ben was key to the plan’s development and successful roll out. When the pandemic hit, the operators were split into teams and basically had to stay in their own bubble with little to no personal interaction with other staff. Ben was the only District staff member who regularly travelled between facilities once COVID hit. His coordination between all the plants has played a key role in the District’s success during the pandemic.
Like many things during the pandemic, Jody and his team couldn’t stop or slow down because they provide a service that can’t stop. Along with day-to-day facility operations, the District is also navigating multiple plant and pipeline construction projects, the development of a new reservoir in East Texas for an increased water supply and obtaining discharge permits for the reclamation plants from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. These permits mandate the safe limits for nutrients and other constituents in the water returning to lakes and rivers. Jody and his team must maintain those safe limits so that the communities’ water sources remain clean.
Construction projects often include a lot of operator involvement to make sure that the improvements are easily implementable and provide a practical operation for the team. However, due to COVID, there was limited operator involvement during construction projects. The District designated one senior operator for each construction project who worked with the District’s construction inspector and the contractor to oversee progress and ease of operation.
And while operators are of the utmost importance to a plant’s operations, the maintenance team kept all the equipment and facilities working in top shape. At the District, they have a centralized maintenance program that provides support to all the facilities, broken up into north and south teams. When the pandemic hit, those teams were broken into smaller units (a mechanic, an electronic tech and worker) to minimize personal exposure. Because if one person was exposed to or contracted the virus, the whole team had to quarantine for safety measures.
You may question why a smaller maintenance team could be challenging. Well, often a project calls for a larger team of mechanical and electrical workers. During the pandemic, the smaller team had to be dispatched to handle the issue, sometimes to tackle a large problem. But no matter the challenge, the District’s maintenance crew handled it and kept all facilities operating smoothly.
With the decreased interaction and team camaraderie due to social distancing protocols, the District looked for ways to promote team interaction where possible. Food trucks were brought in for lunches where District staff could interact outside, socially distanced, and still have a sense of community. When Jody’s team was feeling a loss of team interaction and connection, this opportunity gave them back a semblance of some normality.
As the pandemic continues, Jody’s team keeps water moving because even a pandemic doesn’t slow down a community’s need for safe, clean water. Their dedication and passion are evidenced every day by the quality of water and service they provide to an ever-growing region of Texas. “In the water business, when you do your job right, no one knows you’ve done anything at all. And I think that speaks to my team’s commitment to quality. They do their job so well that the community doesn’t notice any changes to their water because there isn’t any. Our water quality is consistent.”