Putnam, W. Va., Public Service District Adding Early-Alert Water Testing System

The monitoring panel will add an alarm system to alert the plant operator and district supervisors via their smart phones if water is contaminated.

by Ryan Quinn, McClatchy News Service / June 18, 2014

West Virginia's Putnam Public Service District is implementing earlier and more comprehensive contamination detection for its drinking water.

The district’s board approved on Thursday purchasing a $39,000 source water monitoring panel, Communications Coordinator Scott Jones said.

John Inghram, who oversees the district’s water treatment plant in Scott Depot, said the monitoring panel will add an alarm system to alert the plant operator, and district supervisors via their smart phones, if the water in the Poplar Fork Creek Reservoir is contaminated and the pumps draining the reservoir need to be shut off.

The panel will also allow testing of three new water quality parameters — oxygen reduction potential, dissolved oxygen and ultraviolet organics — to the current measuring of temperature, pH and turbidity at the Poplar Fork Reservoir.

Inghram said the 20-million-gallon Poplar Fork Reservoir, located near the treatment plant, collects raw water from the Lower Kanawha River Watershed. That water is then pumped about a mile northeast to the 560-million-gallon Jonathan Larck Reservoir, where it is held until it enters the plant and is treated.

Inghram said the plant already has systems alerting supervisors if the water entering the plant from the Larck Reservoir is contaminated. But he said the addition of extra “pre-source” water testing and alarms at the Poplar Fork Reservoir will allow the district to detect problems much earlier and stop the pumps there before the contaminated water enters the Larck Reservoir, which he said can provide about three to six months of water before running dry.

After stopping the pumps, Inghram said the district could then call in the state Department of Environmental Protection to help solve the contamination problem in the Poplar Fork Reservoir.

“It’d almost be like if Charleston’s plant would have real-time monitoring from Randolph and Webster counties,” he said.

Regulations don’t require the additional testing, but Inghram said the Jan. 9 Freedom Industries spill, which fouled the drinking water of roughly 300,000 West Virginians but didn’t affect the 23,000 residents on Putnam PSD’s separate system, “opened everyone’s eyes.”

“If there are additional things you can do ... why not do it?” he said.

The money for the panel, which is made by Colorado-based Hach and will be set up by Hurricane-based Eagle Research, comes from contingency funds set aside as part of a roughly $5.8 million project to build a sedimentation basin for the treatment plant, Inghram said. The basin helps settle out turbidity — a measure of water clarity affected by solid particles — prior to filtration.

In another move that could further protect the district’s drinking water, board members approved last month spending $552,000 in contingency funds out of a $16 million sewer line extension project to build a pipe from a lift station to a sewer treatment plant in Nitro. Putnam PSD General Manager Michael McNulty, who didn’t have a time-frame for the project, said the pipe would allow the district in emergencies such as pump failures to send sewage to Nitro instead of having overflows.

“The last thing you would ever want to have happen is the flow would overwhelm the lift station,” McNulty said, “and it would overflow into Poplar Fork.”

©2014 The Charleston Gazette (Charleston, W.Va.)