I am a licensed water treatment plant operator ask anything about water and some about distribution .
Link to previous verified ama https://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/8omxse/iama_water_treatment_plant_operator_ama/ I am awaiting my license in the mail but with flint and now Cleveland with high lead levels feel free to ask anything or dispel rumors and myths about drinking water or about the job itself.
Edit: I am going to bed now but keep the questions coming as i will answer them while at the gym
Edit 2: ok guys it has been fun hopefully some people have learned something, I have used up all my free time today finishing up. Everyone have a great friday!
Sorry i thought i replied, is it just that one tap or the whole house?
The whole house. Checked all bathrooms, they are all this pale green. My wife says it smells a little funny, but I can't smell it. Can't remember if I noticed this before but I don't think so. I'm on city water and live in Texas. House is built in the 90s. Don't think it's copper corrosion. I tasted the water and it tastes ok. Didn't taste metallic at all.
It still may be copper that is within containment levels and just high color units. I would call your utility for them to get a sample asap and to flush your lines for you
They would do that for free?? Not trying to come off as cheap or anything, just didn't know utilities would do that.
Yes it is their responsibility and as long as you dont have a filter on your taps or outside filtration sytem they can do it since the extra filters would no longer be their water
My dad was the director of a wastewater plant for the city for a bit and he used to bring us there to hang out on Christmas sometimes because “people still shit on holidays”. Thanks for what you do man
Thank you. Thankfully there are a couple of guys here who always volunteer to work the major holidays so I have always had them off but we are essential emergency personal according to our city and someone is always here 24/7 even when shut down
Why are you not in Flint??
Flint can have that mess lol I want no part of that reformation
Similarly, mine is blue. Thoughts on that?
Could you send a pic and is it all taps as well?
I don’t have a picture right now. It’s not noticeably blue until the large white soaker tub gets more than halfway full. If it’s less full than that, it still looks clear. So no, I haven’t noticed it anywhere else.
I would try other taps. How long has it been going on? Is it as blue as the picture above?
From a former wastewater treatment plant operator I thank you for what you do. My question is what is your favorite and least favorite part of the job also what is one dirty little secret about the water treatment field that most people don't know?
I want to thank you for your job as well handling the other end of the spectrum as well.
My favorite thing is just the science behind it all. My least favourite is spraying out the settling basins and hauling the sludge out.
I guess a little secret is that 95% of my time is getting paid to sit and do absolutely nothing and the other 5% dealing with chicken shit the farmers use instead of cow manure and we really can't get it 100% out but safe enough to drink lol
95% lmao you gotta bump those numbers up. On the more scientific side of stuff what process to yall use to treat?
We feed potassium permanganate directly to the raw water intake, then feed our alum and coagulant aid along with carbon in the flashmix, then chlorine gas to the filters, and clearwell, then we feed orthophosphate and flouride to the clearwell and send it out to town
Are there any plans to switch to standard liquid chlorine considering the instability, danger, and expense of operating on chlorine gas?
We had something in the budget to go to 12.5% sodium hypochlorite but its going to cost 3x as much just to feed 200 or so gallons a day so i doubt it now
While chlorine gas is more volatile, sodium hypo takes up up more room and product for the result. Being in Australia with warmer weather sodium hypo loses strength reasonably quickly as well.
Exactly, its safer but more expensive which is why i dont see us switching anytime soon
What scales and feeders do you guys use? Haha, I'm in the industry.
We have have gravimetric hoppers for lime and carbon. We use peristaltic pumps for just about every other chemical
Nice, come work with me. I only average .001 MGD but I work by myself and everything is manually operated and shit breaks all the time and then I have to fight management to get the money to order something as small as an injection valve and then they will ask me ten times if it's possible to operate without it. I work in industrial pre treatment doing chrome destruction and heavy metal removal.
So I spend 110% of my time running around and always have a running list of thirty things to do.
I will take a hard pass lol. Sounds like our past couple of weeks here lately
A few years ago we had a boil water in our city due to multiple failed tests that showed E-coli that later tests showed to be a false positive. A coworker said that the tech doing the tests had probably used bottle water to fill the samples due to his or her being lazy and that's where the higher levels came from. Is this a possible scenario or is he full of e-coli???
They are different tests used for e coli, the most common being colilert. Its basically bacteria food just for the coliform bactera group. A sample is taken usually in an idex bottle and it has sodium thiosulfate which deactivates all chlorine for 30 or so hours.
A perfect scenario is you run the water line for 15min to get actual water from the main pipes into the idex bottle and get it to a lab for the colilert to be put in the bottle to be shaken up.
Now it is easy to touch the inside of the bottle with the spicket or your fingers even touching the inside of the lid and will contaminate it to get it a false positive.
You can have a sample test positive for coliform since it technically isnt harmful but once the e coli bacteria is active you must collect 3 more samples and report to state and if the tech keeps messing up enough false positives cause a violation which results in a boil notice even if its not needed
When we did this, we would sterilize the tweezers under flame between touching any objects, the vials went in an autoclave, and we would still get false positives, just because something landed on it, mis handle, etc.
It's super easy to mess up e. coli tests.
Luckily we dont have false postives, we are just good about not contaminating it lol
I was in waste water. One wrong move and it was game over for testing.
Yea yall do a little more testing which i want no part of, especially tds tests
Testing wasn't bad. A half broke down septic chopper pump, that was bad.
Great news! Sort of lol. At least you now can reach a solution
In the event of a zombie apocalypse, how long would it take for our water to go to shit?
Couple days max if not less, just depends on if the plant is still able to send water out and tank storage
Are there any common ways that those brain-eating amoebas can get into a public water supply post treatment, or are they mostly an issue for people with wells?
Backyard Wells have it mostly and conventional filtration and chlorine cannot kill them so water sources should be tested thoroughly before even building a plant in the area
Does ozone handle the problem?
Ozone is the best and not the best cost effective way to disinfect the water
It should be noted that ozone has a very poor residual effect. Where chlorine will continue to disinfect contamination beyond the water treatment plant.
You are correct, I am not used to replying to so many people lol
I disagree here. Filtration and chlorine affective at removing bacteria smaller than the brain eating amoeba. Think giardia and crypto. Both similar sized microorganisms. Both effectively removed by filtration and post disinfection.
Giardia and crypto can be deactivated with chlorine but not filtered conventionally. Unless you use nanofiltration or reverse osmosis its not a guarantee to keep it out. Our source does has not had any of those active the 40 years its been used.
Thanks for doing this AMA! Water treatment is a very underappreciated aspect of our daily lives.
What are the qualifications for your position? Did you get a degree in water treatment or something else? Or was it OJT, or both?
I went from doing basically anything armed security to this. Just had to be 18 with a diploma, they would send me to water treatment classes for two years on top of combining ojt since i have no degree. My license in two years is basically a masters degree
Similar to Canada. Do you have to keep taking courses all the time and have a certain amount of CEUs to hold your license? Here we do. Level 1&2, you don't need post secondary education, level 3 if you have 2 years of post secondary you can get it with very little CEUs and level 4 you need 4 years of post secondary to get it with very little CEUs, otherwise it's too difficult. We have very few level 4 in my province because of this. Bit since I do have my bachelor's I can get there easier than my coworkers. I just need to put in it the time. I am a technician now, so I work with the chief operator, my goal is when he retires in 15 years I can become the chief operator.
Yes we need 12 hours of continued education every 2-4 years, the keep changing it up lol
Can you really explain to me what turbidity is in water?
Per awwa it is the physical cloudiness of water
Not OP but it's how cloudy the water is. The reason for measuring turbidity is because its caused by small particles of solids. It can be measured by nephelometric light procedure which are expressed by NTUs. It can also visual methods which are measured in JTUs
Fascinating! I was very curious because I had a gentleman the used to come in and test the water at my old workplace and he had mentioned the term. I had completely forgotten to ask him what it meant.
If they are checking turbidity at a site something is off (not saying i dont believe you) but turbidity is recorded coming in and leaving the plant because faucets can drop non harmful particles or harmful and not give a true reading and turbidity has to be read within a minute due to it settling out if they have to drive back and run it.
St. Louis resident here. I've heard rumors for years that we're amongst the top cities with the cleanest tap water because of the Anheuser Busch brewery being here. Is there any truth in that, or do breweries have onsite filtration that has no correlation with local water treatment plants?
That very well can be 100% true. Some plants in our state serve pillsbury and yogurt factories so they keep all their water at a specific ph and hardness to not totally mess up the food making process
How many MGD does your plant do?
Are you conventional or something more exotic?
What's your water quality like?
How do you dispose of your sludge?
We do about 6mgd, we are convention as you can get (plant built in 70s) with just a vamped up scada, i say our water is a 90% out of a 100 and we suck it out of our lagoons with a mud truck and spread it across a field with an ag gator
Where do you discharge your treated waste water? Deep injection wells? Surface Water?
Have you considered using UV for disinfection instead chlorine?
Or waste water dept sends it out to a small creek that runs into a different water sytem and uv would cost too much to get started and even though uv may fully disinfect federal regs still require a chlorine residual
We ran UV only with no chlorine at our plant, no problems. The UV system is a total pain in the ass however.
Yea i guess yall get away with it to avoid fish kill
What was you last PH rating?
Finished water was a 7.4ph with a 147 alkalinity and 204 hardness, raw water was a 8.1 ph with a 160 alkalinity with a 200 hardness
Thats pretty high for hardness is it not?
Our state is practically limestone on all beds of water sources but yes it is high
How often are water towers actually maintained/inspected? Years ago, I recall watching a documentary/news story that revolved around the fact that many water towers where very poorly maintained(ie. dead rats/birds in the tank, deep sediment, etc).?
It can vary by state but 5-7 years is inspections and maintenance is as needed
My one friend is concerned about fluoride in the water. Saying it’s been proven to lower math test scores among other things.
My other friend is concerned about anti-depressant drugs from urine not getting filtered out of the water supply.
Is there any validity to these?
Too much fluoride just causes teeth mottling and bone problems im 4.0 mg/l amounts. So they have nothing to worry about. Urine isnt a big problem as worse stuff has came through our water at least and was treated perfectly fine
What is your opinion on the EWG's tap water database? Would you consider it to be a credible source?
I just looked up my utility and the numbers look way off. They dont even match our annual water report so I am going to say a hard no
Thanks for the response. Follow-up, besides the generalized reports posted by municipal water systems, how would you find detailed information about water contents?
Honestly just the yearly reports that are available online on your utlity or city website, it gives an average , high and low. Water varies hourly, daily, weekly, etc. So its best to get the average at the end of the year. Plants test the water hourly to every 4 hours along with a full lab test done on a distribution sample so everything is within regs if not then it gets reported and corrected
Is the solution to pollution truly dilution?
My Dad said yes but not to tell the EPA.
Enough dilution can cause easier settling
Do you have any experiences with automation integrators working at the water plant? Any interesting comments or complaints?
95% of my job is automated, but i must know everything inside out and backwards just in case. It is nice to have a lot done for you but it sucks when everything is tied to one system and goes down
Our water out of the tap smells exactly like bleach 9 out of 10 days. Why is that? Is it safe for us to use and let our pets drink?
Is there anything that we can do to take that smell out?
If it smells like bleach I would get your utility to test it and flush your lines asap. Its hard to know with running tests as it can be multiple things. If you have a activated charcoal filter I would use that until a solution is given
What city has the best water treatment, in your opinion?
NYC in my honest opinion
What's for dinner?
We had pizza!
Why is water wet?
Why are we only wet when in water?
Why does my tap water often smell strongly of bleach?
Could be lack of or too much chlorine. Best to get a line flush and a chlorine residual check
What should we common people know about water treatment, and in general about drinking water from our taps?
I'm in NYC, and I just went from drinking distilled delivered water back to NYC tap water and I'm just hesitant that I'm getting something in my water that I don't intend to get (metals etc) so the general safety of tap water is something maybe you could comment on?
The natural minerals in most NY water is some of the best. Any natural occurring minerals will always be the way to go instead of bottled water added minerals. And if you are in the city I can guarantee the lines are always being turned over and fresh. I would say drink out the tap until told otherwise
How much lead am i inducing in Chicago and am i even more stupid now?
Lead mcl (maximum containment level) for the epa is 15ppb (parts per billion) for drinking water in 10% of samples collected. and 5ppb for bottled water. Which some taps have been above the 15ppb. Lead mostly has an impact on kids and most adults would need to drink it from the tap daily and about a gallon a day of it to actually start seeing major problems. So the water lead levels may be high and need to be addressed asap but not a state of emergency yet
I was once told that water treatment plants will sell the sludge as a fertilizer is this true?
Some do but it depends on the chemical components of the sludge, ours turns to powder when it dries and its a lot of paper and testing to cover our ass
What should water taste like?
It should taste not plain but plainish. Water can taste flat. Its hard to explain
What’s the best way to remove Benzene from a water supply?
Activated charcoal can take it down to acceptable levels
Do cities often change their chemical processes for water treatment? Recently, the town where I live has overhauled water mains, water towers, etc. and since that time, I’ve been having some major skin/scalp issues with seemingly no cause. I’ve noticed our water has a strong chlorine smell. Could it be possible that our water is different? Should I run a test? I know I’m grasping as straws but I’m at a loss.
It just depends. Changes if any would be small and should achieve close to previous test results and they should inform the public on any major changes. As for your scalp the water may be hard now. Chlorine is tricky, too little chlorine can smell like chlorine and too much can give the smell too. It is usually too little. Are you at the end of a neighborhood. If you are at the end of a line you may need to have it flushed so fresh water fully reaches to you. When in doubt give your utilty a shout
As a former night shift operator I salute you and your hard work. I also salute your knowledge about the distribution side of wastewater and the science behind it. I mostly worked “primaries” and maintaining the gravity belt thickeners during my time on the job, so I wasn’t really able to pick up on much of the nuance behind treating our water.
My question is what do you to pass the time on the job? I ended up downloading hearthstone so I could at least do something while I wait to take samples and do my readings.
Our plant is in the middle of nowhere so no cell signal except roaming and maybe one bar of 3g. I have youtube red, bring my xbox or download movies. I work out sometimes but we have a tv with like 16 basic channels
We have a well. We have a softener and water purifier for all the water coming into the house however, these two systems did absolutely nothing for the smell. Our cold water is fine but the hot water smells awful.
From searching online it could be some sort of rod in the hot water heater and a chemical reaction with the rod and the water? I don’t know enough to confidently change anything and honestly the smell was the primary reason we had the softener and purifier installed so I’m hesitant to do anything that isn’t definitely going to fix the problem. Do you know anything about this?
The softener and purifier could help with light odors but of it is just hot water you may need to flush yout hot water heater
I had the suspicion that I got montazumas revenge from drinking well water in rural PA. Would a home filtration system fail to get all of those microbes out or was it just an unrelated illness?
Depends on the specifics but microbes are really hard to get out, a home sytem to reach lab grade would cost way too much
We have farms that unofficially test out non approved fertilizer sometimes and it will cause us to shutdown for the day it messes with us so bad so I can't speak too much on jet fuel and the effects since every water source chemical make up is different. Only way to tell is to run multiple controlled jar tests. If someone dumped gasoline or even diesel in our city's water supply i can almost guarantee you we couldn't treat it and would just shut down but until I could test it myself I honestly don't know, I may just try it this weekend to see how it would do on our water
What do you think about private reverse osmosis filtering?
I bought a small unit for just one tap (was around 200$-250$), which filters the water in 5 steps, one of them is a charcoal filter, another one is this osmosis membrane. How clean is the water? Btw, i know that a lot of essential minerals are missing in distilled/filtered water. But, does it work? Thanks!
RO is the best water treatment but like you said you lose your minerals in the water that your body needs. I would be carful with any extenal 3rd party filter because that is now no longer your utilty's water and they may not be responsible or test it for free if anything happens. But if maintained well like anything else you have nothing to worry about
What is your education background?
Just a high school diploma
Is "sludge" a really good fertilizer?
It varies from each plant and utility by 90% of the time yes. Ours is technically good put turns into a fine powder and blows away when dry
Is there a water softener you suggest? I live in AZ and the water is very hard here.
Hard water is just like drinking tums water, it is not bad for you excepts maybe your appliances need more cleaning and maintenance but anything thing over a couple hundred with be pretty decent, it will just leave a lot of salt in your water
How often is water tested for microbes and other content and at what locations in general? I.e. at the plant, or also in different distribution points?
We have yearly and quarterly samples pulled from our source and distribution to check for dozens of different things just to cover ourselves but we always come back well below the limits
I live in the northeast, but not near the ocean. We have well water.
My question is, why does our water taste so salty? It is clear, but tastes like salt. We use a water softener to help with the water hardness, but it doesn’t appear to do much.
Would a whole house reverse osmosis filtration system help?
Or do we need to dig a new well? :(
Your water softener is replacing the hardness causing ions with salt. Look back at a previous answer on an Ion exchange softener.
I've mostly just read about this stuff on Wikipedia, but it seems like water treatment skills would be pretty readily transferable to the mining industry. Is that something you've considered, or seen industry vets do?
Just depends, once you get the concepts down its very easy to get 75% of it down. The other 25% is specifics and trial error. I haven't thought of the mining industry as there is nothing near me but I am sure I have plenty of carbon in my lungs. But it should be easy to transfer skills especially the math
Do you operate a groundwater or surface water plant? Does your state have specific classifications for water supply licenses?
Surface water. We are a level 4 treatment plant
This may seem a little personal but could you tell or pm me your municipal water name as I am licensed in TN and gave give you a better answer
Most of west TN is well water. The pin hole leaks are strange for piping like that. All i can think of is they are not feeding a poly or orthophosphate but I am very confident that they do. Without actually calling and asking them the chemical name specifically thats the only thing fed that could cause that. Corrosive water wouldn't be an issue due to not have copper and lead problems
Polymer ever clog through your process ?
Not really just a lot of stenner pump tube replacements lol
1.) What do you know about organic flocculants, such as chitosan (cationic)? Any experience with sodium alginate (anionic)? How’s your industry view greener organic treatments?
2.) Do you have any concerns on alum ions in water? From alum, aluminum chlorohydrate, etc.?
Not too familiar with organic flocculants, as alum has always worked for us and changing and testing new stuff costs money that our utility doesn't shell out for stuff not essential.
I am sure the more organic the better. The main concern with feeding so much alum is the sludge from floc and back wash
What sort of chemicals get added to drinking water, and what sort of ppm levels are we looking at? Obviously I know Fluoride gets added (although I don't know "what" fluoride) and I know the issue in Flint was not having some anti-corrosion agent, but how many total chemicals are we looking at?
Also, is it true that we are seeing some pharmaceuticals entering our water supplies like anti-depressants, because our waste water systems can't filter them out?
Aluminum sulfate and a coagulation aid called 409 is we use to create floc, we feed fluoride (hyrdofluorisilcic acid, I butched the spelling) is fed. The highest you can feed is 4mg/l or ppm (they are interchangeable terms) for health risk and 2.0 for aesthetics. Our state has a ideal goal of 0.7 mg/l but we end up about 0.56-0.64 at our plant. Phosphate is added to help with corrosion control and lime is added on a as needed basis as well
What's the best inexpensive way to test the quality in my home's water?
Currently renting so I don't want to break the bank doing it. I trust the city's supply, but we're in a 90-year-old house so the pipes make me nervous. In California, if that makes a difference.
Honestly i would just call your utility. Any good accurate kits will break the bank
Okay, thanks! Now I'm just curious though-- at the risk of bank-breaking, what kits do you recommend?
Really anything over a couple hundred is the safe bet since our lab grade stuff is in the 600+ but hach makes some tnt (test n tube)
Do you drink from the tap or use a bottled water service? How has no one asked this?
I am on a smaller systems water which pulls from the same source but only 10min away from each other. I do both, just depends on if I am already in the fridge or by the sink. If i am out and not at a restaurant then its bottled due to water fountains being disgusting on the outside
When someone drops dirt in the water, does the water get dirty? Or does the dirt just get wet?
It takes an inch to an inch and a half of rain to get our river muddy which is a lot so some can dump a truck load of dirt up stream and i dont see it causing a major turbidity problem
I’ve always been interested in this field of work but am unsure how to get started in it. How old were you when you began and what are some obstacles you had to face in this field? What is your average day like? Thanks!
Just look at your city or state website and apply at openings, i was 21 when i got on and got sent through schooling to get my state license.
My day usually is just sitting around making sure everything is running smoothly and running tests throughout the day. Once muddy water hits or something comes through in the water then then fun begins /s
I have a degree in microbiology and have considered water treatment as a possible career path. What jobs or positions would be worth while in applying for?
State lab testing is your best bet unless you have treatment plants looking for microbiologists and paying a nice wage for it
I saw another reddit post this week that said after 2-4 weeks without trucks shipping in chemicals, we wouldn't be able to make water potable. First, any truth behind that factoid? Second, how are these chemicals stored and administered? Are they powder? Liquid?
Ancient Egyptians were using coagulation and flocculation. We may run out of chemicals but we can still make it potable. You may be to quick boil it on your end but it is easily doable. We hold our chemicals in plastic or fiberglass tanks depending on what it is
My water showed up with a slight green tint recently.
Any idea what this could be?
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