Tag Archives: operator

Water Week Spotlight: Justin Sherrill, Water Treatment Plant Operator

As most residents are ending their day and heading off to bed, Justin Sherrill, a Water Treatment Plant Operator at the Franklin Water Treatment Plant, is just beginning his day. Justin works the third shift at the plant, which begins at 10:00pm and ends at 6:00am. He takes some time after the end of his shift to show us around the plant, and give us a glimpse into a typical “day in the life” of a Water Treatment Plant Operator.

On a typical day, Justin begins his shift by receiving information from the prior shift; operators from the preceding shift debrief him on anything he needs to be aware of going into his shift for the night. There are three operators working during each shift, and there must be at least two operators on site at all times.

After receiving his assignments for his shift, Justin will do a walkthrough, where he will walk around to check the grounds, inspecting the treatment plant and making sure everything appears to be in order. As shift supervisor he must make sure that everything is in compliance with the required guidelines for his shift – tanks need to be filled to certain levels, putting out enough water into the system, making sure the water quality is where it needs to be, etc.

A story that Justin shared with us occurred back in early March. There was a large water main break that occurred during the early morning hours, and the treatment plant operators, Justin included, were some of the first to realize and identify that there was a problem due to the amount of water they were losing at the plant – it was an unusually high amount for that time of the day.

The first shift typically deals with the highest demands, as residents are more active and getting ready for their day during this time. The night shift helps to prep the morning shift, and also handles the paperwork and reporting out of how many chemicals were used and how much water was pumped out. This information must also be reported on a monthly basis.

Justin’s favorite part about his job is training other staff members and being able to share his knowledge and what he has learned along the way. Justin takes pride in knowing how important his role is, and enjoys sharing that information with others. Here, he takes the time to walk us through the steps of the water treatment process at the plant.

He points to the first step, which is pumping in the raw water (untreated water) from the reservoir. Once it is pumped in, it flows to the next steps of coagulation and flocculation. During coagulation, liquid aluminum sulfate (alum) is added to the raw water. When alum is mixed with the water, it causes the small particles of dirt in the water to coagulate (aka, stick together). During flocculation, large paddles in the tanks stir the alum and water mixture which causes the particles to stick together, which then forms larger and heavier particles called floc.

Flocculation basin

From there, the water and floc particles flow to the sedimentation basins where the heavy floc particles then settle at the bottom of the basin.

Sedimentation basins

After that, the water flows through a filter, which removes any remaining particles in the water. After the water has been filtered, very small amounts of fluoride and chlorine are added to the water. The fluoride is added to help protect our teeth, and the chlorine is added to kill any germs or contaminants, and to help keep the water disinfected while it travels through miles and miles of pipes to reach customers.

Water filters

Next, Justin will grab some water samples from the lab, where they test each of the water filters every four hours. Samples from the Franklin Water Treatment Plant are also sent to our lab analysts at the Environmental services facility once a week for testing of taste, odor, and metals.

Justin testing the chlorine level of the water sample

Thank you to Justin for showing us around and sharing more information about your role with Charlotte Water! We greatly appreciate our Water Treatment Plan Operators who help to keep clean drinking water flowing to our customers.

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!





Award Winning Utility: Operator Ingenuity Awards

Have you ever thought there was a better or more efficient way to get something done? Well that’s exactly what a couple of our employees thought here at Charlotte Water when they decided to create unique tools to make a part of their job easier, safer, and more cost-effective for themselves and their coworkers!

Every year, WEFTEC (The Water Environment Federation Technical Exhibit and Conference) holds their annual Operator Ingenuity Contest. This contest is open to anyone in the water industry who has developed a creative tool to use on the job. The ideal invention should be unique, cost-effective, and it should make your job easier and potentially safer. It doesn’t matter what area of water you work in, all ideas are welcome in this contest – ideas range from treatment processes, safety measures, human resources, and everything in between. In the past there have been multiple winners, based on the types of entries that are received. In 2018 there were three categories that won an award, and in 2019 there were seven categories that won an award.

Charlotte Water is proud to claim winners for each of those years. In 2018, Brian Avino, a Treatment Plant Mechanic Assistant, won for his invention of the “Goop Scoop,” and in 2019 Johanna McHone, a Plant Operator, won for her invention of the “Polymer Peeler” (or also referred to as the “Tight Squeegee”).

Brian actually created his idea before even knowing about the contest. For his invention of the “Goop Scoop,” he created a device used to remove clumps in the polymer tanks that resemble “fish eyes.” To do this, he created a sifter by drilling holes in the bottom of a plastic container, and attached it to a pole so that he could lower it into the tank for scooping. The holes in the container were small enough to drain and preserve the “good polymer” (which is very slippery) back into the tank, while also preventing a potentially dangerous spill. Prior to his invention Brian was using a mesh net to remove the “fish eyes” from the tank. This tool worked to remove them, but it also removed much of the good polymer and would often times leave behind a slippery mess.

Before his invention of the “goop scoop” Brian was using the mesh net, pictured here, to capture and remove the “fish eyes” from the tank.
Now, Brian uses the “goop scoop” to remove the “fish eyes” from the tank, preserving the good polymer and without leaving any spills behind.

Johanna’s invention was called the “Polymer Peeler.” This tool was used to peel off the polymer slime that would often build up on the insides of the tanks. She created this tool using a dust mop, a squeegee, a pipe clamp, and a zip tie. Prior to her invention, she was using a heated pressure washer that would often put her and others at risk for back-splashing of the extremely hot water and/or chemicals. The washer was also using a lot of energy and water – whereas the “Polymer Peeler” eliminates the use of both altogether.

Johanna with her invention, the “Polymer Peeler”

We are so proud of these two contest winners, and we can’t wait to see what unique entries will win in 2020!

A Day in the Life: Dispatch Operator

Summer intern Jake Dube continues his adventure. This time, Jake sits in with dispatch operator Lester Gray. Jake picked his brain and learned what it means to work dispatch for Charlotte Water.

You remember that one kid in school that seemed to know EVERYTHING? Every school activity, everyone’s summer plans, even your secret crush? Well, that is Lester and everyone else in dispatch. The six of them rotate hours to do the job 24/7, always ready to handle any problem.

Phone calls, emails, and alarms oh my! All of these come flooding to dispatch throughout the day. Dispatch needs to be in the “know” about everything happening across the county. Lester will get an email for every event involving Charlotte Water. The fire department, 311 Call Center, and supervisors all email dispatch every day. Being a point of contact for anything happening means you get a lot of information sent to you.

What they do with this information is extremely important. They relay the information to the appropriate parties so they will be handled accordingly. Remember the 311 Call Center? They often call Lester and transfer over callers reporting leaks. He finds where the leak is coming from and notifies the right crew to fix the problem.

As I sit and watch Lester fields calls and emails at a rapid pace, an abrupt alarm sounds. I nearly jump out of my chair. Lester gets a good chuckle out of this and goes to a desktop around the corner. This alarm is for any lift station or treatment plant. If there is an issue,  whether that is low pressure or a machine is malfunctioning, the alarm sounds.

Lester clicks a few buttons and sits back in his seat. I wonder why there wasn’t any sense of urgency. A malfunctioning treatment plant sounds pretty serious to me. He smiles as I express my concern and he pulls up an email. It is from the technician of the wastewater treatment plant saying to disregard all alarms from the plant today because they were running tests. When a plant doesn’t send the email, and the alarm sounds, then you call the on-call technician to take care of it.

Plant Monitor System

I cannot imagine having to receive so many emails in a day. In the time it took Lester to get up, acknowledge the alarm, and sit back down he received 8 emails.

Lester admits that some days can be fast, with nonstop calls, emails, and alarms. On slower days, or lulls between the calls and emails he uses his time wisely and preps for the future. He cleans out his email, looks at updates, and makes sure he is ready for the next rush.

I am picking Lester’s brain during a quiet moment. Mid response, Lester is interrupted by the phone. He picks up and introduces himself. It’s from 311; transferring a caller who is reporting a leak. A few moments later, a man starts explaining the situation. His construction crew had hit the mainline. “The water shot above the house!” I believe were the exact words used. Lester asks a few questions, gathers the information, tells him to stay put and that Charlotte Water would be there shortly.

Lester fills out the report, takes screenshots of the information and sends an email to the right folks to go check it out. Without missing a beat he’s back to prepping for a future rush.

I find myself wondering what it must be like to wear so many hats. Lester handles phone calls, dispatches crews, coordinates through email, and… BUZZZZ. My line of thought is interrupted by another loud sound. I look up to see the monitor above his desk zoom in on the security gate. Lester chuckles again due to my reaction and greets the driver. It’s the landscaper coming to do work on the property. Lester opens the gate for them.


Another hat that Dispatch wears is security! They have monitors that show all the different cameras around the facility.

I sit and watch as Lester goes about his work. Coordinating with others, answering calls, opening security gates, and dispatching to crew chiefs and supervisors. If there is anyone who knows about everything Charlotte Water does daily… it’s Lester Gray.

My day with Lester was coming to a close. As I was packing up, Lester was still answering the phone, letting people through the gate, and receiving endless emails. I thanked Lester for teaching me so much. As a worker for Charlotte Water for over 23 years, he sure was able to tell me all about the history of the utility.

A firm handshake followed by “have a good one” and I was on my way home.

Above all, I will remember this. Dispatch helps Charlotte Water run smoothly. Without their constant communication and coordination, crews wouldn’t know where to go and what we were walking into. They are all wonderful people and dedicated workers who put in their time around the clock to make sure everything goes as planned. Thank you again, Lester!

Make sure to stay up to date on all things Charlotte Water by following us on TwitterFacebook, and YouTube. Don’t forget to check in on the CLTWater Blog so you won’t miss the next installment of A Day in the Life!