Category Archives: Employee Spotlights

Engineering Week Spotlight: Mark Bullins, Environmental Compliance Manager – Backflow Prevention

Mark Bullins, Environmental Compliance Manager, shares his insights with us for Engineering Week on his work with Backflow Prevention (aka Cross-Connection Control).

I have been involved in Backflow Prevention, also known as Cross Connection Control, for over twenty years. As anyone who knows me will tell you, it is a subject I am passionate about. In my past employment, I have dealt with incidents of contamination from unprotected or illicit cross-connections and the consequences to a city’s water supply as well as the water customer. Doing my best to make sure that the drinking water Charlotte Water delivers to its customers remains pure and safe is my highest priority.

Fixed air gap on a tanker fill pipe

As the Environmental Compliance Manager for the Backflow Group, I oversee a team that reviews construction plans and inspects installations, making sure that water connections are properly protected with the correct backflow prevention assemblies and that they are being installed correctly for testing and maintenance. This group also creates and keeps records of these assemblies, their locations, the type, model, serial numbers, test reports, and approved testers; all the items required for compliance. They also handle questions from testers and contractors.

Putting it simply, once the treated water is delivered to the customer through the water meter, we do not want it to flow back into Charlotte Water’s distribution system. For example, for some water services such as a below-ground lawn irrigation system, the water can come into contact with anything found in or on the soil. This may include fertilizers, pesticides, microorganisms…etc. Fire sprinkler systems are another example; they sometimes contain water that can sit stagnant for up to a year at a time. Some fire protection systems also contain toxic chemical additives such as suppressant foam or antifreeze or have the ability for chemicals to be pumped into them. These are only a few examples of why the public water supply needs to be protected.

Parallel backflow prevention assembles an inside installation

Another part of Charlotte Water’s Backflow Prevention program exists in the Customer Service division. This is where the water tanker and hydrant use program is located. The Customer Service group also handles calls from customers, enrolls customers in our Water Smart program, and issues letters for testing for existing customers. Backflow prevention assemblies per city ordinance must be tested annually. With their online portal, backflow testers can submit test results electronically with final acceptance by Charlotte Water. 

Reduced pressure principle assembly with heat tape

People are often confused about what backflow prevention is, and seem to think it is about the “backwater” devices that prevent sewage from coming into a home or business. Many people do not realize that pressurized water from the distribution system can flow in a reverse direction from the water customer or how it can occur. Part of our responsibility is to educate others on the work we do.

Running a backflow prevention program is always challenging and never boring. I enjoy working at Charlotte Water and enjoy the professionalism of the people I work with.

Engineering Week Spotlight: Steve Roosen, Construction Inspector

Haley Cook, an Engineering Project Coordinator for Charlotte Water, spent the day with Steve Roosen, Construction Inspector, to learn more about the work that he does each day.

Engineering Week often leads us to think about Senior Project Managers and Professional Engineers designing crucial services for our community. As a Project Coordinator, I create plan sheets and gather permits before construction begins. Project Managers are responsible for project feasibility, customer coordination, approving plan sheets, etc. But what happens after all those plans are signed, sealed, and approved? The project is handed to Construction Inspectors, who help turn the engineer’s pipe dreams into a functioning reality. Projects are constructed by a reputable private construction company approved by the City and supervised by a designated Construction Inspector. Inspectors are responsible for verifying the project is completed according to the plans and relaying that information to the engineer.

Steve Roosen, Construction Inspector

Steve Roosen has been with Charlotte Water for nearly 35 years as a Construction Inspector. He has overseen all kinds of water and sewer projects in all corners of the service area. Steve has most of the Charlotte Water details and specifications memorized (although he always has a copy on-site) and is confident he can tackle any problem. When asked how he navigates difficulties in the field, Steve notes, “We don’t have a problem, we never have a problem, we have a challenge.”

Challenges are few and far between for a man that has almost seen it all. The main challenge he’ll face is keeping open communication between contractors and engineers since field changes are almost inevitable. Project coordinators organize utility locates and incorporate survey data into the utility’s design. It’s our goal to make plans as realistic as possible and think of any potential issues a contractor may face. Surveys for engineering plans, however, can end up being completed up to a year before construction. Topography, underground utilities, and clients can drastically shift the construction plans before the project is complete. Steve is always happy to answer any questions about construction during the design process and lend his advice when these difficulties arise.

Steve explains how he uses a mandrel to test pipe deflection after construction is complete.

The Charlotte Water Standards are continuously improving, which results in changes to how utilities are installed and documented. Steve shares that over his years at Charlotte Water he has “seen a lot of changes, good or bad, but never been discouraged or had to carry out something [he] disagreed with. I’ve worked with great engineers and supervisors… couldn’t ask for any better. Love Charlotte Water.” His favorite part of the job is being on-site with the people he has known for many years.

Steve is usually out in the field but is always willing to lend a hand to his fellow Design and Construction team members. When Steve is not at work, you can find him on a body of water in his bass fishing boat or competing in national BASS championships.

Water Week Spotlight: Matt Girard, Hydrant Crew Chief

You pass by dozens of them a day and probably don’t think twice. Hydrants are all over our city, and some have even been here for over 100 years! This piece of infrastructure is another critical component to water access in our community. Matt Girard, Hydrant Crew Chief, shares with us some of the important work they do each day.

Zone 3 hydrant crew, Matt Girard (right) and Mike Puckett (left)

Matt Girard and Mike Puckett begin their day at our Zone 3 location where they receive their assignments for the day. Depending on the hydrant work that needs to be done, they will work on anywhere from four to eight hydrants in a single day. Matt has been in his role for over 23 years, and Mike recently transitioned within Charlotte Water to work on the hydrant crew just a couple of months ago, so he has quite the wealth of knowledge with Matt as his trainer in this role! Hydrant crews only have two staff members per crew, and one crew for each of our zones. Back in the day, there was only one crew assigned for the entire service area!

Hydrant crews handle all hydrant maintenance, repairs, and painting of hydrants. Hydrants are made out of cast iron, and if taken care of properly, they can last up to 100 years! The oldest hydrant Matt has come across was located in Uptown Charlotte from the year 1887. If you stop and notice, hydrants will have the year they were installed indicated on them. If the hydrant is older than 1930, then you won’t see the date listed on the side.

On this particular day, Matt and Mike start their day on a hydrant repair out in the Matthews area. For this particular repair, the hydrant was leaking, so they were there to determine the cause. To begin, they had to shut off the nearby water valve and take it apart to investigate further. In order to do this they needed to take the stem of the hydrant out to see the bottom of it, to determine the issue.

It is quite the manual and labor intensive process to take apart the hydrant. First they must remove the top of the hydrant completely with a socket and impact wrench so they can access the stem and remove it. Then they use hydraulics instead of a manual wrench to remove the stem.

Once the stem is removed completely, they are able to see the cause of the leak. Matt explains that the valve was not shutting off properly due to damage to the rubber valve at the bottom. This damage was likely caused by debris that was not flushed out properly and caused wear and tear on the rubber valve.

Matt pointing to the cause of the leak – the rubber valve, which acts as a seal, has been damaged

Matt and Mike take the stem and valve back to their truck to remove and replace the main valve. The main valve acts as a seal to shut the hydrant off when it is use. Since it is made of just rubber, it can be damaged over time if not flushed properly.

After the rubber valve has been replaced and sealed, the stem is put back into the hydrant.

When putting the stem back in, they slowly turn water valve back on to help seal it into place. This process helps to push all of the air out and seal it. When they start to see the water, they will pull it up manually to seal it, turn it one more time to keep it in place, put the top back on, then attach the hose and turn the water valve up all the way and push out any remaining air.

After that is complete, the final step is to let the hydrant drain for about five minutes, while they clean up and put any materials back in the truck. Then they seal it up and paint the hydrant if needed, then on to the next one!

Thank you to Matt and Mike for letting us follow along with your day, and thank you for all that you and the hydrant crews do to keep our hydrants working properly throughout the community!

We hope you have enjoyed following along all week and learning more about a “day in the life” of some of our staff members during National Drinking Water Week!

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Water Week Spotlight: Cam Coley, Public Information Specialist

With all of the hard work that we do at Charlotte Water, someone has to make sure we are informing the public about our work. We sat down with Senior Public Information Specialist, Cam Coley, to learn more about his role and how he makes sure that we are always keeping the public informed each day.

Since the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020, Cam has been working from his home office (aka, dining room/storage room/pantry). He starts his day around 6:30am, after his “alarm clocks” i.e., fours kids and a dog, make sure that he’s awake and on time for work. He starts the day off by checking his work phone to see if any crews are still working from the late night shift, which may have an impact on the morning rush hour traffic, or water service to customers who are also beginning their day. Before his first sip of coffee, Cam clears out any overnight emails, and informs customers of any outages or traffic alerts through our social media platforms.

Most days are similar, but you don’t always know what may happen next. Cam spends most hours working on communications for several construction projects and informing any residents of water outages in their area through Nextdoor. If there is an emergency water main break that needs attention then he will drop what he is doing to assist.

Some everyday tasks for Cam include:

  • Working with engineers on communications for 30+ construction projects
  • Assisting our repair crews with communicating repairs
  • Communicating wastewater spills in accordance with the Clean Water Act and Charlotte Water’s guidelines
  • Taking photos and videos of our staff
  • Respond to media inquiries

In his role, Cam also works with several different divisions at any given time to stay up to date on any information that needs to be communicated out to our customers. Not only is it important to communicate information out to the public, it is also important to educate the public as well, and continue to educate ourselves (we are customers too)!

Cam has been working for Charlotte Water since early 2001 (20 years!) and works with four other staff members on the Communications Team. The team is a small compared to other similar sized water utilities, but they all work hard to get the information out to our customers. The team’s different talents help to cover a lot of different tasks for internal and external communications.

Cam shares that his favorite part about his role is working on projects that improve our communication processes and notifications to customers. Things have come a long way over the years, but we are always working to improve and develop our communication methods to help meet customer’s expectations. Any opportunity to help a customer connect with the information they need is fun. Another favorite part is taking photos and videos of coworkers to help show the great work they do. Communicators are the ones who often speaking on behalf of the staff, and act as the “voices” of the organization, helping to tell our stories.

Here are a few of Cam’s favorite photos from over the years:

72-inch water pipe construction
Field operations crew flowing a hydrant as part of a repair on a very cold day
Capturing our wastewater treatment plant operators in action

One aspect that is his least favorite is having to communicate because of mistakes. Mistakes are always going to be inevitable, but they tend to be less painful if you drop whatever you are doing and focus on them. Many customers understand and appreciate our efforts when we admit a mistake and quickly resolve it.

Cam’s role allows him to bridge information about outages and projects between customers and Charlotte Water staff, which aligns with this year’s theme of “there when you need it.” Thank you to Cam and the Communications Team for all that you do to share information with our customers and staff!

Continue to follow along this week as we will share more “day in the life” stories of our staff members during National Drinking Water Week!