Welcome to another edition the Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County newsletter.
In business since 1942, MAWC values each individual customer, and today boasts more than 147,000 accounts.
In this edition, you'll read tips, a few updates about MAWC's continuing investment in your water and wastewater systems, and how MAWC shows leadership in its processes and people.
Table of Contents
Replace your hot water tank's sacrificial anode to extend its life
By Alyssa Choiniere
There are many ways to improve water quality, and some of them are more well-known than others. One of the lesser-known ways to improve water quality is to call a plumber to replace the sacrificial anode in your hot water tank.
“It’s basically the filter for the water tank,” said Josh Eori of 5 Star Plumbing in Smithton.
In addition to improving water quality, replacing the sacrificial anode has an added bonus. It also extends the life of your hot water tank, he said.
The sacrificial anode, also called an anode rod or a heater anode, isn’t designed to last as long as the water tank itself. Tankless water heaters don’t include this component, but standard tank heaters do. The sacrificial anode is a rod inside the water tank which is often made of magnesium. It works by allowing water to corrode it, instead of letting the tank itself degrade.
“The purpose of the sacrificial anode in a hot water tank is to direct the corrosive forces away from the tank itself, and direct them to the anode, so that the tank will last much longer before normal corrosion takes place,” said Mark Stoner, water quality superintendent for the Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County. “Essentially, replacement of this allows the tank to last much longer without needing to replace it.”
The anode can also be made of aluminum, a hybrid, or a powered anode. Replacements can be purchased at hardware stores or online.
Without the sacrificial anode, water heaters would become useless because of rust and corrosion after just a few years. A hot water tank is often made of partly of steel or other materials susceptible to corrosion, making the tank vulnerable to rust as water reacts with oxygen. The heat in the hot water tank also speeds up the chemical process that creates rust.
But a sacrificial anode draws these reactions, so the anode corrodes much faster than the water tank. But once the anode is gone, so is its benefit. An added benefit is that the hot water tank functions much longer when the anode prevents the tank from corroding.
Stoner said water heaters should be inspected regularly, at a minimum of every five years. He and Eori said few people know that they should replace the anode.
“I would say that some people who keep up with the maintenance of their hot water tanks know the benefits of replacing these. But in today’s ‘throw away’ society, most probably are not aware,” Stoner said.
Investment in generators continues to pay dividends
The George R Sweeney Water Treatment Plant
BELL TOWNSHIP (Nov. 2) – The 120,000 people served by the George R. Sweeney Water Treatment Plant probably didn’t know that the facility was without power for nearly 24 hours over Nov. 1 & 2, because water remained flowing without issue – thanks to a large investment in a generator.
Without the $1 million generator, the customers would have faced conservation orders, or worse, a boil water advisory if water tanks ran low.
But thanks to investments made by MAWC's Board of Directors of your rate dollars, the generator was in place to keep water flowing.
The Sweeney plant serves MAWC customers in much of the northern portion of Westmoreland County, and parts of Armstrong and Indiana counties. MAWC also sells water from the Sweeney plant to Monroeville, Plum and two townships in Armstrong. Those bulk customers and the population they serve aren’t counted in the total of 120,000 MAWC customers served by Sweeney.
The wind and heavy rains that downed trees and caused the outage Nov. 1 were not the first time that MAWC's generators have maintained water service after a power outage.
In February, large outages affected more than 100,000 homes across Western PA. But generators at seven pump stations kept water flowing to about 20 percent of the 400,000 people served by MAWC.
But generators are only a small part of the investments underway at MAWC. The Leaks and Projects map at https://www.mawc.org/leaks-projects-map shows $139 million in 102 projects underway or recently completed, thanks in part to the additional investment made by MAWC ratepayers in 2016.
These projects and others not only bought generators, but paid to meet new regulations, replace miles of worn pipe, increase water tank storage, to pilot innovative new methods that will make MAWC customers’ water safer, and for general maintenance.
Every winter, many homeowners face the expense and inconvenience of frozen water pipes - make sure you're not one of them by taking a few simple precautions.
Disconnect and drain outdoor hoses
Detaching the hose allows water to drain from the pipe so an overnight freeze doesn't burst the faucet or the pipe it’s connected to.
Insulate pipes or faucets in unheated areas
It's best to wrap all water pipes in unheated areas (such as the garage, attic or crawl space) before temperatures plummet. You can find pipe wrapping materials at any hardware or building supply store.
Consider installing "heat tape" or "heat cable"
Install "heat tape" or similar materials on all exposed water pipe (i.e. exterior pipe, or pipe located where the temperature might drop below freezing). It is relatively easy to install and can be found at your local hardware or building supply store. Be sure that you use only UL-listed products and follow the manufacturer's instructions carefully.
Seal off access doors, air vents, and cracks
Winter winds whistling through overlooked openings can quickly freeze exposed water pipes. DO NOT plug air vents used by your furnace or water heater.
Find the master shutoff valve
Usually located where the water line enters your house (or near the water heater or washing machine), the master shutoff valve turns off the water to the entire house. Paint it a bright color and make sure everyone in the household knows where it is.
What if it's too late?
During an extended cold spell, your pipes can freeze, even if you take all the proper precautions. If you think you know where the freeze occurred and want to try thawing it yourself, the easiest tool to use is a hair dryer with a low heat seating or a portable space heater. DO NOT under any circumstances use an open flame. Using the hair dryer, wave the warm air back and forth along the pipe. DO NOT heat only one spot on the pipe, as this can cause it to burst. If you don't have a hair dryer or a space heater, wrap the frozen section with rags or towels and pour hot water over them.
Be careful when heating the pipe. It may already be broken and just not leaking because the water is frozen. When you thaw it out, the water could come gushing out. Be ready to run for the master shutoff valve if necessary.
How long have you worked for MAWC, and how long have you worked as the manager of operations, engineering?
I was first employed as an Operations Manager by MAWC in July 1993. My title became “Manager of Operations, Engineering” in 2004.
What are your primary duties and responsibilities?
Currently, the Engineering Group’s responsibilities include: project feasibility and estimates, design, permitting, contract management, geographical Information system (GIS) development, pursue grant and funding sources for system expansion and/or improvement projects, construction contract management, computer aided drafting/design (CAD), PA-One Call implementation, budget projections and management, plus regulatory, municipal and PennDOT liaison. Also, public and customer relations as they relate to new and replacement water main projects. Some of my additional responsibilities while at MAWC included management of MAWC’s wastewater operations for approximately 15 years, water and wastewater systems acquisitions and the annual development of our Consumer Confidence Report.
What licenses do you hold?
I am a Licensed Professional Engineer in Pennsylvania. Also, I am certified by the Commonwealth as a Class A Operator for Water Systems and Class A for Wastewater Systems.
What awards have you won during your career with MAWC?
I’ve been fortunate and deeply humbled to be the recipient of PA-AWWA’s 2016 Samuel S. Baxter Award in recognition of “Outstanding Personal Service In The Water Supply Field”, the 2016 WWOAP Harry J. Krum Award for “Distinguished Service In The Water Supply Field” and the WWOAP’s Elton David Walker Award “In recognition of Outstanding Organizational Leadership and Service To The Association”. In addition, It was my privilege to serve as the Section Chair for the Pennsylvania American Water Works Association (PA-AWWA) (2011 – 2012) and President of the Water Works Operators’ Association of Pennsylvania (WWOAP) (2018 – 2019). At present, I serve on the PA-AWWA Board as Southwest District Trustee and on WWOAP’s Board as Past President.
How did you become interested in this type of work?
I’ve been interested in the outdoors and the environment since I was a kid. I was raised in the Latrobe, PA during the 1960’s. At that time, the quality of the Loyalhanna Creek flowing through the Borough was affected by acid mine drainage, raw sewage, indiscriminate dumping and inadequately treated discharges from multiple industrial facilities adjacent to the Creek. One day, my father, a Latrobe Police Officer, caught my friends and I swimming in the “quality challenged” section of the Loyalhanna. He promptly ordered us out of the Creek and gave us a lesson in water quality explaining that it was safe to swim in the Loyalhanna Creek upgradient of its intersection with State Route 0982. His lesson was followed by a harsh warning that he had better not catch us in and/or around the Creek downgradient of that location again. After that, we rode our bicycles to swim and fish in the safer upstream reaches of the Loyalhanna Creek.
I spent much of my youth outdoors, hiking, hunting and fishing; consequently, I developed an appreciation for environmental conservation. However, greater public awareness concerning pollution during the 1960’s and the development of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in the early 1970’s piqued my interest concerning the subject matter.
Where did you get your start in your career?
As a student at Derry Area High School, one of my favorite subjects was Mechanical/Architectural Drafting. Following high school I enrolled at a local technical school to study Architectural Drafting and Design. Subsequently, I enlisted in the U.S. Army and served with the 20th (Combat) (Airborne) Engineer Brigade at Fort Bragg, NC. The military provided my first opportunity to work with Professional Engineers. Our primary mission was combat readiness; however, we worked on both civil and humanitarian projects. Example projects include the conceptual development of a “Combat in Cities” training course and construction of a pontoon bridge in South Carolina following a hurricane.
Following the military, I served a 4-year apprenticeship in the construction industry, then attended the Pennsylvania State University at University Park to study Engineering. I earned a Bachelor of Science Degree and a Master of Engineering Degree in Environmental Engineering through the Department of Civil Engineering. The emphasis for both Degrees were water treatment/distribution and wastewater collection/treatment. As a graduate student, I worked as a research assistant for the University. My first position after leaving Penn State was with a diversified environmental consulting firm, Earth Sciences Consultants, Inc. (ESC) located near Murrysville, PA. MAWC was one of my clients during my seven years with Earth Sciences. In 1993, MAWC offered me a position and I’ve been employed here since.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to pursue this type of career?
I serve as a member of the Greater Latrobe-Laurel Valley Community Chamber of Commerce, Economic Education Committee. Committee members meet with junior high school and high school students on a regular basis to encourage them to begin exploring various careers. The advice that I always offer is to choose a career based upon your personal interests. You have to love what you do; otherwise, it’s not worth climbing out of bed in the morning. Furthermore, I suggest that students research various careers of interest via the internet and, more importantly, to spend time talking with people working in their field of interest. In addition, if possible, shadow someone in that field for a day or more at their place of employment. College and High School students should also pursue summer and/or co-op employment opportunities to gain firsthand experience and knowledge applicable to their career of choice and to ensure that they’re pursuing their proper career path.
What are some things you have learned in your time with MAWC?
Some things take time, but are worth the wait. An example would be a project that I began to manage shortly after beginning my employment with MAWC. Specifically, a condition of our water allocation permit stated that if MAWC’s withdrawal from the Youghiogheny River at our Indian Creek Water Treatment Plant would exceed 28 million gallons per day (MGD) averaged in any 30 day period we would need to obtain and/or create additional upgradient storage capacity. Although, we never exceeded this threshold, we felt that it was necessary to plan for future growth, We calculated that the cost to construct additional upgradient reservoir storage would be prohibitive at about $75 million. Accordingly, we sought out alternatives and teamed up with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Pittsburgh District, to pursue reallocation of storage capacity in the Army Corps’ Youghiogheny River Lake Dam. It took about twenty years to finalize the project following numerous scientific studies and multiple public meetings; however, in the end, we were successful and saved our ratepayers millions of dollars.
Do you have any favorite mottos or words to live by?
Yes, “TAKE the HIGH ROAD”; which to me, means to do the right thing even though it may difficult and not necessarily the most popular thing to do.
How have things changed since you first started on your career with MAWC?
Technology has been the greatest change. For instance, the use of personal computers and system and/or process automation. Also, the ability to detect potential water contaminants at lower levels has driven the development of new and more stringent regulations to protect public health and welfare. Consequently, today’s water customers are justifiably more concerned about their water quality and, in turn, the cost to treat and deliver quality water at an affordable price to their homes and businesses.
What is a typical day like for you?
Other than to say that I’m constantly busy, there really is no such thing as a typical day. That is one of the things that I really like about my work. Change makes the work challenging and keeps it interesting.
Did you know that experts state that you should have three days of water for all the people in your home plus pets to be prepared for an Emergency?
Get your disaster act together by clicking on this link to view readiness checklists: http://bit.ly/30QvM6y
Look for the badge
By Alyssa Choiniere
Scams are abundant, and they seem to escalate as the holiday season approaches. A pair of burglars scammed their way into Westmoreland County homes last year, misrepresenting themselves as electrical utility workers.
The Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County makes it easy to identify its employees. Each of them carries a badge that clearly identifies the person as an employee. The badge includes the employee’s name and photo.
“Everyone is issued a water company ID when they’re hired, and they have it on their person if they would ever have to go to someone’s house,” said Ron Mellinger, the Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County’s operations manager for distribution.
The company vehicles are also clearly marked.
In November 2018, a man knocked on the door of a Mount Pleasant home and claimed to be from “the power company.” The man who lived there believed him, because construction crews were in his area installing gas lines. The man at the door said he needed to check the home’s fuse box. But an accomplice was already inside, using the man’s distraction to make his way upstairs. He ransacked the upstairs rooms searching for valuables and stole a safe with more than $600 cash inside and other belongings.
Police say never to let someone inside your home without checking their identification.
Any time one of Mellinger’s employees needs to go to a customer’s house, they are required to call him and let him know. So anyone who is suspicious of a person at their door should call the municipal authority to check out the claim to see if the person is legitimate.
“I would know,” Mellinger said.
If someone knocks on the door and claims to be a utility worker, ask for proof they are who they say they are.
“What you should definitely do is ask for ID,” Mellinger said.
You can call the municipal authority so they can check if one of their employees is in the area, or call 9-1-1 if a person does not produce identification.
“If you’re unsafe, you’re unsure, call the police,” said Darlene Testa, the MAWC’s operations manager.
Testa said it is common for utility workers to be in a person’s yard to read the meters. In those cases, the person should have their badge clearly displayed. If a person appears to be suspicious, Testa said the municipal authority can easily check whether workers are doing meter readings in the area. A call to the municipal authority can verify that.
“If they aren’t reading, and we have no service techs in that area, we always advise them to call the police,” Testa said.
To verify whether a person is a utility worker, call the Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County at 724-755-5924.
To report a suspicious person, call 9-1-1.