‘You have to control it’: Plant operates constantly to supply water to thirsty city
Published 12:11 am Friday, February 27, 2015
The faucet is always running at Vicksburg’s Water Treatment Plant, and that’s perhaps the only thing that never changes. /// Constructed in 1969, the water operates 24 hours per day, 365 days per year to provide residents of Vicksburg and Warren County, and at any point during the day, there’s no telling what kind of action might be happening, said Pat McGuffie, director of the plant.
“This is one of the most complex plants you’ve ever been to,” McGuffie said. “It’s just like a puzzle. You have to control it.”
McGuffie’s not kidding.
The sprawling plant draws water from 11 wells with a capacity of 2 million gallons per day. Samples of water are taken form the constantly running faucet every hour on the hour to test hardness, alkalinity, iron, acidity, and amount of hydrogen sulfide and carbon dioxide.
“It’s still doing what it’s supposed to do and it’s still got original equipment in it,” McGuffie said.
In one room, color-coded pens measure and mark levels on a spinning wheel. In another, lime is stacked floor to ceiling to be used for water softening. There are vats, valves, pipes, rocks, ceramic mats, and each one plays a specific important role in water treatment.
“If someone walked in here and looked it all, they would probably panic,” McGuffie said of the complexity of the puzzle he manages each day.
First, water drawn from wells goes though an aeration process in giant vats. Then, the water passes though softening units where lime is added.
In the next phase, natural gas is burned to produce carbon dioxide that’s added to the water.
“To us it’s not that complicated, but to someone else it is,” McGuffie said.
Then fluoride and chlorine must be added before the water is filtered through eight different layers of coal, sand, gravel and clay. The finished product eventually makes it way to homes and business.
“Nobody really understands what it takes and costs to make water,” he said. “A lot of people say water’s free, and it is out of the ground. But it’s not free to get it out of the ground and treat it to make it safe to drink.”
It’s enough to make your head spin, yet McGuffie and others at the plant must know the details of each process and what to do if something goes wrong.
“If we have one hiccup it screws the whole system up,” McGuffie said.
When that hiccup hits, the crews must be prepared to fix it fast, and when the public doesn’t even notice, that’s the way McGuffie likes it.
“People have to have water,” he said. “It takes eight hours to make a gallon of water — to run it though the plant and treat it — but we’re making 8 million gallons at a time.”
Sometimes Mother Nature forces the hiccups. In 2011, flooding almost forced the shutdown of the plant when water almost overtook large wells near the plant.
“When the river floods, we have to check them by boat,” McGuffie said.