From the River to the Tap: Water Treatment

It’s hard to believe the clean, fresh water that comes from your tap actually started its journey as a drop of water in the Catawba River.

Hundreds of Charlotte Water employees are part of that journey, and during National Drinking Water Week, we celebrate and recognize the vital role water plays in our community. Every day this week, we’ll meet one of those employees helping deliver water from the river to your tap.

We’re starting with the first steps in the process, where we pull water from the lakes and treat it before it enters the distribution system.


“I enjoy taking a raw product – lake water – and taking it through the process to create a final product – potable water. I also like controlling the process to get water to people’s homes by monitoring the pressure and keeping it up.”

Water Treatment Plant Operator Tom McEver knows he has a big job. He’s been with Charlotte Water for 25 years, starting as an operator at the Vest Plant, then moving to the Lee S. Dukes Plant before it even opened.

“In 1996, my supervisor at Vest said, ‘Go learn that new plant, because you’ll have to train the operators,’ so I went to Dukes,” McEver said. “Construction on the plant finished that year, but delays with other contractors meant we didn’t have raw product – the lake water – until 1998.”

McEver has been at the Dukes plant ever since. “I got to know that plant real good even before it started,” he said with a laugh.

Chance and a change in the economy brought McEver to Charlotte Water. He worked for a wholesale distributor on Tryon Street for years. He planned to retire from that company, until automation and online sales started growing, cutting the need for distribution companies – and their employees.

“I had, in the past, worked for the Town of Davidson water and wastewater departments,” he said. “My supervisor there was working for Charlotte Water. When I found myself looking for a job, I called him and asked if they had any openings, and that’s how I found out about an operator position at the Vest plant.”

Since then, McEver has operated two of Charlotte Water’s treatment facilities. The Dukes plant is in Huntersville and treats 10 million gallons of water from Lake Norman every day.

“When I operate the plant, I’m responsible for the entire process,” McEver explained. “That means I manage the water coming in from the lake, the chemicals that are added to disinfect and adjust the pH of the water, and monitor the filters.”

There’s more to the job than sitting in front of computer monitors. “Every two hours, I run lab tests on the water, checking the levels of chlorine, pH and fluoride, as well as measuring the turbidity, or cloudiness, of the water,” he said. “I walk the entire plant regularly, checking the equipment as well as sounds and smells, to make sure everything is working correctly.”

Charlotte Water is tested and monitored through every phase of the process to ensure it’s safe and that the very last customer at the end of the pipe system has clean water. McEver knows it’s a big responsibility.

“This is a public health job, because we’re responsible for providing clean water. It’s also a public safety job, because we have to make sure there’s enough pressure to provide water for the fire department when fires break out,” he said. “I don’t always like to think about that responsibility, but it’s satisfying to know I have a big part in making sure the process happens.”

He may have 25 years’ experience with Charlotte Water, but he doesn’t have plans to retire. His favorite poem, To Earthward by Robert Frost, compares youth and maturity, and McEver seems to look at his time with Charlotte Water in the same way.

“My work is agreeable, and I’ve done the tasks so often over the years that they’re part of my routine. I’ve met a lot of good people, a lot of smart people, here over the years. Really good, competent people.”

To read the next step in the water process here