Category Archives: Employee Spotlights

The Dream Team: Charlotte Water & Mecklenburg County Working Together to Help Residents

Deondra “Dee” Hagans has always had the desire to help people. “I like being able to better the lives of the people I come in contact with,” she says.  That’s why she has always worked in public service in some capacity. It’s also one of the things that excites her the most about her new role as a Customer Service Representative, working with both Charlotte Water and Mecklenburg County’s Department of Social Services (DSS): “This partnership between the City and County allows me to help residents get connected to resources that they need most.”

Deondra “Dee” Hagans in her new role at Charlotte Water as a
Financial Aid Program Coordinator.

As a liaison between both departments, Deondra will be able to work as a City and County representative to help residents get connected to financial aid assistance and resources they qualify for. Dee has an extensive background in financial assistance, including five years working with DSS in their Economic Services division. However, this new position and role is especially important because of how it was created and the purpose it serves.  

During the COVID pandemic, Charlotte Water saw the financial strain the pandemic had on customers. To decrease some burden, late fees were lifted, disconnections were suspended, and payment plans were extended so families had access to water services during financial hardship. As the pandemic continued, financial assistance through grants, community programs and state and federal funds, were allocated to families to help cover rent, utilities, food, and other necessities. One such state program was the Low-Income Household Water Assistance Program (LIHWAP) that focused specifically on helping residents with their outstanding water bills. The state sent the funds to the County, who would then distribute it to households in need.

To accomplish this, Charlotte Water and DSS had to work closely together. Representatives met weekly to create a process that was the best way to determine and distribute the funds. Details from how residents applied for aid, to how to help people who were not eligible were discussed.

In the end, DSS and Charlotte Water decided to auto-match the funds to accounts that qualified. Charlotte Water would send a list to DSS of accounts that were overdue or at risk of being disconnected when regular billing procedures resumed. DSS would check if those accounts had already become eligible for other aid and match them with funds through the LIHWAP program. Those who were eligible would receive a one-time credit that cleared their balance.

Because of the collaboration, thousands of residents were able to get a financial fresh start when account balances were forgiven. As more funds were released, DSS and Charlotte Water saw an opportunity to create a full-time position between the two departments that would be bigger than just the LIHWAP program. Charlotte Water is always looking for ways to connect customers to the financial aid available and DSS understands that if you need water bill assistance during a financial hardship, there’s a possibility you might need other financial assistance as well.

The new role, and Dee, are opening up opportunities for future partnerships between the City and the County that will benefit our community. “Being able to work with both agencies means I have the ability to help the customers in several ways, versus just one area of need they might have,” says Dee. “It’s a win-win-win for everyone.”

On April 25, representatives from Charlotte Water and Mecklenburg County Department of Social Services celebrated the ongoing partnership between the two agencies.

Engineering Week: The Many Hats of Our Engineers

CLTWater & CDM Smith staff visiting Raleigh’s Thermal hydrosis process (THP), currently under construction

We have a lot of engineering jobs at Charlotte Water, but did you know that not all of them are the same? There are many different types of engineers that work in various divisions across our department. This article features a Q&A with three different engineers within Charlotte Water who share a glimpse of the work they do for us and our community.

Muriel Steele running samples in Irwin Creek’s lab

Muriel Steele, Wastewater Process Engineer

Q: Provide us with an overview of the work you do – a brief “day-in-the-life”

A: I provide technical support for the wastewater treatment plants with projects like planning and review of engineering studies, evaluation of new equipment or processes, and troubleshooting operational issues. No two days are alike. Recently I have been working on polymer trials to select the best products for each plant’s thickening and dewatering operations, creating a timeline for a recurring issue at one of our plants to better identify the root cause, working with IT to develop interactive dashboards to summarize our collection system sampling data in a useful manner, and writing plans to pilot a new technology at one of our WWTPs.

Q: Tell us about your background, education, and career path – what inspired you to become an engineer?

A: I originally wanted to study architecture because I thought it would combine two of my favorite high school subjects: art and math. Signing up for my first semester of classes, I learned that I had already taken all the required math classes for an architecture degree while I was in high school. I was shocked and panicked! I quickly changed course to what I thought would be the closest thing that required more math: civil engineering. As I progressed through the curriculum, I figured out that water interested me far more than buildings, so I took all the water and environmental classes my college offered and worked in a water lab as an undergraduate. After finishing my BS in Civil Engineering, I went to graduate school for Environmental Engineering where I focused on water and wastewater processes. After graduating I worked as a consulting engineer supporting utilities across the southeast, the US, and even internationally. But after my first project with Charlotte Water, I knew I wanted to work here and have a more active role in supporting our public infrastructure and protecting the local environment.

Q: How long have you been working for Charlotte Water?

A: Coming up on 4 years

Q: What is the most interesting story or thing you’ve seen on the job?

A: The weird things we find in the barscreens/headworks/preliminary treatment at our plants (money, 2x4s, even shopping carts on some of the larger lines)! My favorite was when an operator (at a plant I worked at in SC, not at Charlotte Water) found a diamond ring in the bar screen and proposed to his girlfriend with it!

Also, the aquatic wildlife we see around our outfalls reminds me that we are doing it for more than just the humans in the community. There are a couple of huge soft shell turtles that like to hang around Irwin that are awesome.

Q: What do you love the most about your job?

A: The thing I love most about my job is working with a diverse group people, with different backgrounds and experience, all working to provide a service to our community and the natural environment. I feel like the work we do every day really is for the greater good.

Jason Bromirski, Senior Engineer with Field Operations

Q: Provide us with an overview of the work you do – a brief “day-in-the-life

A: I was lucky enough to be hired by Angela as a Senior Engineer in Field Operations back in 2016. At that time my group was only a handful of personnel doing physical condition assessments of our “Critical Assets” (aerials, force mains, and other exposed sewer lines), acoustic inspections of sewer lines with our SL-RATs units, and sewer point repairs.

Since then, most front line condition assessments of the collection system, and a number of field and engineering support activities have been consolidated into my group. With over 40 employees, my Strategic Operations Support Group performs CCTV surveys in ~1 million linear feet (LF) of sewer mains and now laterals annually, acoustic blockage detection in ~2 million LF of sewer annually, rehabilitates or replaces components of both the collection and distribution system with two large construction crews, completes nearly 1,100 Critical Asset inspections annually, maintains and responds to over 400 SmartCover level sensors that prevent sanitary sewer overflows (SSOs), conducts drone flights for aerial investigations of our assets, manages nine contracts for condition assessment and rehabilitation, and acts as liaisons to other Charlotte Water divisions, City departments, agencies, contractors, and most importantly the public.

Sardis Road Diversion Box

Q: Tell us about your background, education, and career path – what inspired you to become an engineer?

A: I grew up in Spartanburg, SC, moved to Charlotte and attended UNCC. At the time I wanted to pursue a career in GIS, and began interning with Charlotte Water in the middle of my junior year. After graduation, I decided to take a different approach and focus on my passion for construction. Early on I was encouraged by Dennis Gwaltney to apply for one of his open construction inspection positions. He decided to hire me on, and immediately he and Chuck Bliss assigned me to a number of large diameter water and sewer projects. The complexity and the challenge of large scale CIP jobs sparked further interest in me, and as priorities of the department changed, I worked on numerous rehab and replacement projects as well. After a year overseas, I moved to California for two years and worked as a resident engineer and project manager for a small consulting firm. We specialized in federally funded streetscapes, underground utilities, signalization, and bridge projects in municipalities all over northern California. It was interesting to see the different practices and focus in that part of the country. During that time I continued working on and completed my masters in construction management which prepared me for my current position at Charlotte Water.

Q: How long have you been working for Charlotte Water?

A: 18 years

Q: What is the most interesting story or thing you’ve seen on the job?

A: The most interesting thing I encounter routinely on the job is getting to go where likely very few people go. My team and Field Operations in general gets to work in the busiest streets and also the most quiet corners of the county. It can be an eerie feeling when you stand in the middle of our major thoroughfares at rush hour and there is no traffic because the road is shut down due to a repair. It can also be completely calm and peaceful in a flood plain or outfall easement that has not been turned into a greenway yet. With all the development that has occurred in Mecklenburg County, there are some places that are still quite remote.

Q: What do you love the most about your job?

A: The thing I love most about my job is I am positioned to interact with so many people from so many different backgrounds and disciplines and I always learn something new. That allows me to exchange ideas and listen to needs and solve problems, but also to demo new technology. I have always had wonderful supervisors and managers at Charlotte Water, and this gives me the freedom to pursue new and varied approaches to existing and emerging problems encountered at all levels.

Jason Bromirski working on Westinghouse Blvd in 2017

Clark Sanders, Electrical Engineer at McAlpine Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant

Q: Provide us with an overview of the work you do – a brief “day-in-the-life”

A: This morning started with trying to determine if some power distribution equipment that a project team originally installed as a temporary installation was acceptable as a permanent solution. Several emails, phone calls, and meetings with plant personnel generated a recommendation for that project’s management team.  In between those calls, I continued to update a document I created to try and help clarify what power interruptions would happen across the plant when our Delivery 2 switchgear is updated in a few months. That was interrupted by an unexpected meeting to provide input on another projects issue with duct bank routing.

Next on the agenda for the day was coordinating some work at Delivery 1 with Duke Power and plant operations. After lunch I started investigating a sensor issue at our generators that led to tracing wiring and then to the PLC program, to be investigated on another day. The remaining afternoon was taken up with continuing discussions with an integrator on various projects coming up. Those included a PLC upgrade for our generators, new communications for the mixers being replaced at our fermenter, and modification to our plant SCADA network to free up some IP addresses and improve the way we utilize our power monitoring equipment.

Upgrading mixers at the fermenter to ethernet comms

Q: Tell us about your background, education, and career path – what inspired you to become an engineer?

A: I have always enjoyed working on cars and computers when I was younger, and my first journey to college at UNC Chapel Hill was for a degree in Computer Programming. It was somewhat disappointing because, at the time, UNC’s programming was basically a glorified math class. That led to a slight change of course into the US Marine Corps as an Aviation Electronics Technician. That was a lot more interesting so after completing my enlistment, I attended the other UNC at Charlotte to obtain my Electrical Engineering degree.

As an Engineer, I have traveled to Europe, Nova Scotia, Mexico, and across the US several times. I have designed and installed controls for glass plants, tire plants, chemical plants, high speed conversion lines, grid tie battery storage systems, and the most fun, a battery test system in the Tesla plant. Its been a career that has let me travel and see wide variety of manufacturing processes.

Replacing a failed drive at the sand filters

Q: How long have you been working for Charlotte Water?

A: Three years.

Q: What is the most interesting story or thing you’ve seen on the job?

I have seen a lot of complex manufacturing processes, but wastewater treatment seems to be a complex living process and not at all what I expected.

Q: What do you love the most about your job?

A: The opportunity to continue to learn and the people I work with.

Engineering Week: Alan Gaines Explains Distribution System Water Pressures

“What is my water pressure?” That is a very simple question that can also be very important to Charlotte Water’s customers. Alan Gaines, Senior Engineer with Charlotte Water, explains more in-depth about the water pressure across our distribution system.

A photo of Alan Gaines with a fire hydrant

If the water pressure is too low, customers may have trouble performing basic tasks such as washing clothes or dishes. However, water pressure that is too high can make some tasks, such as taking a shower, uncomfortable, or cause damage to pipes and appliances.

Charlotte Water serves all of Mecklenburg County with over 4,500 miles of water mains. Pressures will be dependent on where the customer’s service is in our system. Customers should expect to see a range of pressures that can occur throughout the day. This is because water pressure depends on many factors such as the water supply pumping into the water system, water levels in the system’s elevated storage tanks, and water use by other customers.

A image explaining water pressure from the water tower to your home

The elevation of a customer’s home is also a major factor in their water pressure. Customers in low-lying areas, closer to creeks and streams, can expect higher pressures than neighbors on top of a hill or along a ridgeline. Because of topography in our Charlotte Water’s service area, pressures could be 40 psi or lower in some areas of higher elevation and well above 100 psi in areas with lower elevation.

A chart of distribution system recorded pressures

If a customer is concerned about their water pressure, they should consult with a licensed plumber or they can measure their water pressure themselves (many home hardware stores sell gauges that attach to a hose spigot).

Based on the plumbing code, if a customer or plumber finds a reading above 80 psi, then the customer should consider having a pressure-reducing valve (PRV) installed to protect their plumbing. A PRV is a small bell-shaped device that is typically installed right after the water meter or at the home’s shut-off valve to bring pressures to an optimal level for domestic use. This is important to help protect the customer’s appliances and maintain the life expectancy of the customer’s private plumbing. PRVs should be checked periodically and may need to be replaced on a frequency similar to a water heater tank (10 to 15 years on average).

Addressing a customer’s low water pressure concerns is a more complex process because there are multiple potential causes. Because of this, customers will likely need to contact Charlotte Water customer service and a licensed plumber to help evaluate the issue and develop an appropriate solution.

If the low-pressure cause is due to the customer’s ground elevation, then Charlotte Water will be unable to help in most circumstances. Pressure is created by adding energy to the distribution system, typically with a pump. Utilities can only add so much energy into the system without creating problems for other customers or making significant changes in major water infrastructure.

If the low pressure occurs during the customer’s water use, then there is likely a restriction between the water main and the plumbing fixture in the home. Customers are responsible for infrastructure past the meter and Charlotte Water is responsible for the meter and service line to the water main. A restriction’s location will determine which party is responsible to address the issue.

An image explaining Charlotte Water's water service connection process

“What is my water pressure?” This simple question has a complex answer involving multiple factors. Water pressures for Charlotte Water customers will occur in a range dependent on conditions in the Utility’s system as well as the customer’s plumbing.

Something To Be Grateful For

We’re grateful for our Charlotte Water employees who work 24/7/365 so that the rest of us can enjoy the holiday.

As you sit down for your Thanksgiving meal and you are pondering a unique thing to be thankful for, you can be grateful for running water and safely managed sanitation. According to the WHO and UNICEF’s Progress on Household Drinking Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Report, only 74% of the world’s population has safe drinking water. That means more than two billion people are without consistent access to clean drinking water.   

Additionally, only 54% of the world’s population has access to safely regulated sanitation services. We are incredibly fortunate to have safe, high-quality water and well-maintained wastewater systems.

Charlotte Water is one of the largest water and sanitation service utilities in the Southeast with over 1,050 employees to support the more than one million residents.  To keep over 9,000 miles of water and wastewater pipes, three water treatment plants, seven wastewater treatment plants, and several water storage, water towers, and facilities all maintained and running 24/7/365, many Charlotte Water employees must work on and through holidays or stay on-call in case of emergencies.   

Leaks and backups happen on holidays, too!

Crystal Josey works as a dispatcher for Charlotte Water. She shares her experience working over holidays:

“My job during the holiday is no different than it is during normal working hours. Water leaks still happen and sewer backups still occur. These incidents happen any time of any day. My job is to take the correct information from the reporting person and send the correct crew to investigate and/or make necessary repairs. A crew must be paged in from home, get everyone together, and get to the truck and the work site.”  

Barbara Armstrong is a Sr. Water Service Technician. She is first on-site for leaks and breaks. She describes her role:

“Water service leaks are unpredictable, and they could happen at any given time including during the holidays. I can repair some water service leaks in an average timeframe of approximately, 10-30 minutes. However emergency main breaks or emergency water service leaks can typically take 2 to 4 hours to complete, and they are completed by a Field Operations Construction Crew. For the most part, we don’t want to interrupt the customers’ holiday, and we only make emergency repairs on the holidays.”  

Don’t wash grease down the pipes

When families making meals wash grease down the sink, the risk of pipes backing up or clogging increases. As the weather gets colder, the grease hardens into solid masses that cause problems.

“Sewer complaints are always handled as an emergency and we seem to receive more sewer calls over the holidays for various reasons. A lot of cooking and grease/food down the drain is not a good thing,” Josey comments.  

Keep this in mind as you prepare your holiday meals! When grease hardens in pipes, it can cause messy, smelly back-ups. These back-ups can cause sewer overflows or even come back into your house. So, wipe your pans out with paper towels, throw them away, and our pipes will continue to flow free.

Say “Hi!” if you see our trucks

Charlotteans wouldn’t be able to appreciate the holiday without dedicated Charlotte Water staff serving the community. Take a moment to thank those who are working diligently to manage these systems and those who are ready to jump in if there is an emergency while you’re celebrating. If you see Charlotte Water trucks in your neighborhood, wave and say hi! Armstrong shares:

Working on the holiday is an added bonus for me because I enjoy serving the community, and it makes me feel proud when customers see me driving a Charlotte Water vehicle throughout their neighborhoods. Customers are very happy to see me arrive at their residence on a holiday. Most of them can’t believe that I am working on a holiday, and then they are very thankful for my service. I take pride in what I do, and I’m always there to help our customers. I try to put their worries at ease and let them know that Charlotte Water will take care of any issue that they may have as long as it’s not on the private side.”  

* Progress on household drinking water, sanitation and hygiene 2000-2020: five years into the SDGs. Geneva: World Health
Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), 2021.