Tag Archives: engineering

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: Collaborative Eco-Solutions for Water & Greenway Customers

Charlotte and Mecklenburg County keep growing and growing, and because of that, more water pipes are needed to serve these growing areas. One particular area is the eastern part of Charlotte. Amy Vershel, Senior Engineering Project Manager, shares the details of this collaborative project to support the growth in our community.

Amy Vershel standing next to her Charlotte Water truck
Amy Vershel, Senior Engineering Project Manger with CLTWater

Charlotte Water (CLTWater) needed to add drinking water pipes from Idlewild Road (at East W.T. Harris Boulevard) along W.T. Harris Boulevard, Hickory Grove Road, Highland Avenue, and Plott Road to a water storage tank off of Plaza Road Extension. This project is needed to maintain water quality and reliable service for current and future customers.

During the design phase, dense housing development, other existing underground utilities, and NCDOT pavement restrictions within the proposed pipe alignment required that a portion of the alignment cross the Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation (MCPR) Reedy Creek Nature Preserve, a 1000-acre forested habitat and biodiversity center. At the same time, MCPR was engaging Nature Preserve stakeholders in an 18-month planning process to design a greenway in this same corridor.

Water pipe construction along the greenway
Taken by project team for City of Charlotte, Charlotte Water

To avoid significant impacts to critical woodland habitat within the Nature Preserve, the team worked together to find solutions that helped align the new pipe under the greenway trail.

The goal was to avoid large trees and rock outcroppings. Seems simple, right? Not exactly. This required changes in how the water pipe was designed and installed. Some of the changes required weighing the needs of the water system project compared to minimizing impact to the Nature Preserve.

Regular meetings, field walks, alignment tweaks, and special provisions successfully mitigated impacts to both the water system and wildlife habitat. This phase of the project will be in service by the end of 2023. Exemplary collaboration and innovative thinking enabled our interagency team to deliver an enhanced public utility and recreation resource that will build equity, ecological resilience, and community to the residents of Charlotte.

Water pipe construction along the greenway
Photo taken by inspector Brody Boone

Fast Facts

Pipe: 31,300-foot long, 36-inch diameter water transmission main

Cost: $55 million

Duration 36+ months

For more information, please visit our project website : https://charlottenc.gov/Projects/Pages/WTHarrisPlottRoadWaterMainProject.aspx

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.

Engineers Week Spotlight: Richelle Hines, Engineering Project Manager

In honor of Engineers Week 2020, we asked one of your very own engineers to share their insights and experiences with us, and ultimately share why they love what they do. This article is written by Richelle Hines, an Engineering Project Manager here at Charlotte Water, who shares the “magic” behind what it means to be an engineer.

As an engineer I feel like a magician. I fell in love with wastewater when I toured a plant in college. When you think about everything that is in our wastewater and seeing how we treat it to be cleaner than the water in the river, now that’s magic! Our distribution system is amazing also. You can’t see it except for a manhole lid or water valve cover, but our system stretches miles underground. We collect wastewater from over 260,000 customers and send it to one of our five treatment plants to work our magic. On our drinking water side, it is just as amazing with having three drinking water plants and delivering this water to over 290,000 customers! Magic!

As a project manager I design and review plans to make sure they meet our standards. What that entails is ensuring the pipe is at an appropriate depth, we choose the right material, our slope is between our allowable limits, etc. When we review the plans we try to address construction issues and constraints that may come up.  My favorite part of the job is helping residents. I get calls from residents asking why we are painting lines on the road and I explain how we are locating utilities. I’ll get questions asking what survey crews are doing and if the flag colors have specific meaning. I’ll also get high level questions regarding how a project will affect their property. I like to be transparent and put myself in the customer’s situation when helping them.

As an engineer you are thinking about current issues we face while also looking at the future. When we design water and wastewater distribution systems it’s a balancing act of predicting what future growth we expect while also realizing that the larger our water and wastewater pipes and system are the more money they cost to build and maintain.

It’s easy for our industry to be taken for granted. We turn on the faucet and water comes out. We flush our toilets and water disappears. Our system is out of site. Until an issue comes up, we don’t think about it. Engineers are just one part of Charlotte Water. I have to give a shout out to our plant operators who keep our plants running seamlessly. Charlotte Water also has amazing field operators who maintain our distribution system and make emergency repairs at all hours of the night. During weather events that shut down the city, our staff is still working 24/7.

Being an engineer is a dynamic job that is sometimes hard to explain what we do on a day to day basis. I enjoy working for Charlotte Water and the service side of helping out the community. Next time you turn on the tap or flush your toilet think about the engineering that goes behind making it happen!