Fredonia water citations being addressed

It has been approximately seven months since Fredonia’s week-long boil water advisory as a result of problems in the water filtration plant, and things seem to be going smoothly when it comes to preventing those problem in the future, according to Chief Operator Christopher Surma.

After the boil water advisory was lifted in early December, a follow-up assessment of the water system was conducted to understand what caused the advisory and what needed to be fixed. In its report regarding the 2012 sanitary survey of the public water supply, the Chautauqua County Health Department cited major violations of the water filtration system, the biggest of which being a lack of finished water storage and proper supervision of the system.

“The village does not have adequate water storage to allow shut down of the treatment plant to allow time to rebuild the sludge blankets,” the report stated. “Other compounding factors in the boil water order event included the lack of a standard operating procedure for re-establishing the sludge blankets in the clarifiers and the lack of operational data to quantify the baseline conditions needed in the clarifiers.”

Sludge blankets are part of the primary treatment at the plant and act as a net for sediments and particles in the water. Problems with a chemical feed pump in the early morning hours of Nov. 28, when the facility was unmanned, caused the water clarity to fall below health department standards. The pump was not properly adding treatment chemicals into the raw water, causing the sludge blankets to deteriorate. The resulting muddied water entered the village’s distribution system, causing the boil water advisory to take effect.

“Progress to the finished water storage was actually included in our capital improvements budget for the next couple of years,” Surma said. “Another storage tank is on that docket. That’s our number one priority right now. It’s not going to happen overnight, but … the letter also talked about an issue to do with the Webster tank, which wasn’t working correctly. So, we are in the process of fixing that right now. There was four or five things we had to do and the last thing we have to do is change a valve in the ground up there. That’s being dug out and getting going right now.”

As a result of the lack of workers in the plant when the sludge blankets deteriorated, the report demanded that an alarm wired to the existing emergency auto-dialer system should be installed no later than March 3. Otherwise, the village would be required to provide an operator on duty at the plant whenever water is being produced. Surma said alarms have been installed, but he did not blame the issues that day on the lack of alarms.

“Everybody likes to think that was the main issue, but it really wasn’t,” he said. “The issue was this place wasn’t manned 24 hours. That’s been one of the biggest moves we’ve been trying to make. And when the alarms go off, sometimes our services are goofy and we don’t get an alarm call. That’s the kind of stuff we want to avoid. This place is too big to be fully automatic. The actual operations of this place over a period of time is not automatically done.”

Recently, Surma pushed the village to hire a new worker who will monitor the plant during the early morning hours, which was the time the chemical pumps failed the day of the boil water advisory. He expects the new operator to be brought on board in the near future.

“One shift will be six in the morning to two, and then two to 10 and now we are going to add a guy from 10 to six,” he said. “Right now, I come in at all different hours, which helps out, since we didn’t have a guy on midnights. I can come in at three in the morning and check everything. I’m not trusting the alarms.”

The report also had several criticisms of the water treatment plant itself.

“A (reduced pressure zone) needs to be installed (in) the domestic water system for the plant,” it stated. “Domestic potable water service is provided to the plant from two very old service pumps. … Therefore, it is also recommended that they be replaced at the time the RPZ is installed.”

“We’ve got the drawings approved by the health department and the contractor is just waiting for the go-ahead from the financial guys at the village and what I understand is it’s going to be any day now,” Surma said.

An RPZ is an in-house safety feature that acts as a backflow preventer. It is used to protect water supplies from contamination. Installing the device in the treatment plant is not expected to take long.

“It’s a plumber’s job,” Surma said. “It will take a day to install.”

Other deficiencies of the facility included a missing protective cage around the shaft of the surface wash pump, poor drainage in the pipe gallery and the lack of an eyewash station and shower in the chemical handling area. A much-needed modification of the dry chemical storage facility to create an isolated room strictly for dry chemical feed operations was also cited, as well as spill containment around the liquid chemical storage area. Surma said these smaller issues have been addressed.

“The health department has been updated in all of this and we’re keeping in close contact with them,” he said. “A couple times a month, they’re checking in and making sure we’re doing all this stuff.”

The report was completed by Rob Lancaster, the chief water operator at that time, Paul Snyder of the county health department and David Rowley of the State Health Department.

“Any of the violations they were cited for, they were given a schedule to adhere to,” Snyder said. “The village has been working, and is currently working, on complying with each of these violations. There are a number of them that haven’t been addressed yet, but they may require engineering work, so the engineering might not be completed yet. The village overall, however, is working to address all of our concerns.”

In a pamphlet sent out to village residents on June 19, the filtration plant stated many steps have been taken to correct the deficiencies and its ability to monitor the plant more frequently. This includes 24-hour manned operation and capital projects for increased water storage ability.

“Improvements to the chemical feed system, chemical containment area and general building maintenance are planned for 2013, as well as increasing the performance of the plumbing within the Webster Road Storage Tank,” the pamphlet stated.

Surma said the crew and operators at the filtration plant have been working diligently to keep everything running smoothly. He also thanked the Fredonia Village Hall staff for working with him to get the issues addressed swiftly and on-time.

“I was welcomed very warmly down here when I started last February and everyone has been working great with me,” he said. “This here is a jewel to have your own water facility. It’s not a disaster waiting to happen, as some people have said. It just needs a little attention and the county helped us grab that attention. The village can feel confident that their leaders are diligent here, that’s for sure.”

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