H2O News, November 2021
Thanks for being a customer of the Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County. We hope you enjoy our latest newsletter. Be sure to click the links to learn more about how it takes great water to make great pies -- and to grow the fruit too! You'll find cold weather tips to prepare for winter, and a spotlight on the MAWC employee who ensures your water is the best it can be.
Table of Contents
By Alyssa Choiniere
Crops needed to make scrumptious pies and tempting wines were in jeopardy at a Mount Pleasant farm due to a sudden change in its well water.
Sand Hill Berries turned to the Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County when their well water turned alkaline -- and brought the plants back from the brink.
The farm is home to businesses including a dessert café where they produce thousands of pies and other treats for area festivals and farmers markets, and the Greendance Winery at Sandhill, where produce becomes fruity wines.
“We used well water for all of our field plants, and we noticed some problems with our well water over the last several years,” said Co-Owner Susan Lynn.
Lynn said they had started a new project that focused on growing their plants differently. The new method required a continuous water source, and nearly all of their plants died. Suspecting water may have been the cause of the crop damage, she said they sent water samples to the Pennsylvania State University, which sent samples to labs including the University of North Dakota.
“It was so alkaline and the pH was so high,” she said. Highly alkaline water can change soil pH, and make some nutrients unavailable to plants, even causing deposits to form on leaves.
Her husband, Co-Owner Rick Lynn, began using MAWC water on the crops instead.
“The plants – what was left of them – improved,” she said.
This year, she said their production has significantly improved after switching to MAWC water.
“That’s our story of how we came to use municipal authority water,” she said.
While MAWC water involves an additional cost compared to well water, she said they farm high-value crops. She said they are careful in their use of water, taking precise measurements of how much the plants need.
MAWC water is also used for pie production, cleaning and other daily uses, she said. Four cups of ice water made with MAWC water and purchased ice goes into each batch of pie crust, she said.
She said they have been growing new crops on the farm with the intention of extending their growing season.
“We’re doing all sorts of things to improve production,” she said.
Sand Hill Berries was founded in 1986 with seven acres of berry fields including red raspberries and black raspberries. Their production has expanded greatly over the years to also include red currants, gooseberries, black currants, heirloom apples, strawberries, stone fruits and seedless grapes.
Their pies appear at area festivals and farmer’s markets, including Mount Lebanon, Ligonier, Verona and Forest Hills.
Lynn said they are currently gearing up for fall, baking apple pies and preparing to make pumpkin pies. They are also crafting apple jack and maple bourbon cheesecake.
Apple cider made with an old-fashioned apple cider press is currently available at Sand Hill, along with “grandmother’s cookies,” using recipes Rick and Susan's grandmothers made when they were children.
By Alyssa Choiniere
Mark Stoner, the Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County’s water quality superintendent, said he enjoys the science behind his work and finding innovative methods to serve MAWC’s customers. Most people don’t understand how much work goes into ensuring clean water is available for each of MAWC’s customers. Mark likes that when he explains how MAWC provides high-quality drinking water he helps create a change in people’s mindset so they don’t take our most valuable resource for granted.
He is often on the move during his days at work, traveling to sites and offering assistance as needed, but he sat down with us to share what he does for MAWC and the communities that rely on our services.
How long have you worked for MAWC, and how long have you held your current position?
I have been with the authority since December 2012, originally as the water quality supervisor at the George Sweeney Water Treatment Plant, then moved into my current position as the water quality superintendent in October of 2015, when my predecessor retired.
What degrees/licenses do you hold, and where did you get your start in your career?
I have a BS in Chemistry from the University of Pittsburgh and hold a Class A Water operator’s license issued by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.
What are your primary duties and responsibilities?
I am responsible for all water quality and compliance, overseeing the water quality supervisors in plant-based compliance, as well as being directly responsible for the water quality in the distribution system. This includes all new line and facility testing for compliance and operation as well as general water quality, which includes customer complaints and requests.
I work with all departments to resolve water quality issues. I also ensure that the plant maintains simultaneous compliance for all Safe Drinking Water Act regulations that affect operations.
I am responsible for reviewing and preparing for any upcoming regulations or changes in the regulatory compliance landscape. I am also in the process of implementing a MAWC laboratory data management system, which will integrate with other data systems currently in use.
I oversee two water labs with a lot of assistance from the supervisors and the New Stanton Wastewater Treatment Plant lab, in conjunction with the plant supervisor of that facility.
In addition, I am evaluating and implementing new technologies that the authority can utilize to achieve continued compliance and improvement to water quality.
What is a normal day like for you?
I generally begin by checking on the distribution chemical feed and monitoring systems that I am responsible for. If I have received any e-mail/phone notices concerning any facility, I will address these first. Then, generally, I either get into scheduled meetings, webinars on regulations or technologies, make plant visits or laboratory visits to review data and any potential treatment issues, or handle customer or foremen requests for assistance.
On any given day, I will order new chemicals or necessary supplies to keep distribution water quality stations functional and safe to operate. I also write and update water quality standard operating procedures.
I generally work out of my vehicle, as I am often not based in the office, and travel to ensure water quality standards through our distribution system.
How many people do you oversee and what are their duties?
I oversee three water quality supervisors, a source water supervisor and one sample collector, and share a distribution technician with another department.
The water quality supervisors are responsible for day-to-day operation and water quality and compliance at their treatment plants, ensuring compliance of Safe Drinking Water Act standards.
The source water supervisor is responsible for all source-related issues that may affect our water treatment plants and maintains our source water protection committees and state-approved source water protection plans for each drinking water facility.
The sample collector is responsible for collecting our routine bacteriological and chlorine testing for all our treatment plants by sampling water in the distribution system (the pipes that carry water to our customers) and other special sampling we are required to perform such as sampling new lines prior to placing them into service. The other employees cover maintenance and upkeep of our remote chemical feed facilities, and monitoring stations in the distribution system.
Who do you report to?
I report to Assistant Manager Jack Ashton.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to pursue this type of career?
Aside from maintaining a good technical skill set, learn to handle change and to be patient when dealing with complaints. Being able to take things as they come, and not being locked into a routine is extremely helpful.
What is a major challenge you have faced at work?
Learning the lesson that I can’t do everything myself. Being in the superintendent position requires me to delegate, and while I do not like to micromanage, I have a hard time not biting off more responsibility than I can chew for tasks that should be delegated. This has been a major challenge to me to overcome since becoming superintendent, just being able to direct tasks from an umbrella-like position, rather than inserting myself into the meat and potatoes of each task, yet still maintaining the knowledge and the overall situational awareness to effectively direct the task.
What are some of your biggest successes?
In life, my three biggest successes are my daughters. In my job, I wouldn’t consider any success as “mine.” I am proud to be a part of the team that is capable of handling any emergency with ease and professionalism; that is capable of playing off of each of our individual abilities to solve new and emerging treatment problems; and that can rise to any occasion and provide quality water to our customers, come what may.
Do you have any favorite mottos or words to live by?
I have two, but they essentially say the same thing.
The first is from the English poet, occultist and mountaineer, Aleister Crowley’s writings, and that is “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law.” Which essentially means to determine your proper course of action in any situation and then do ONLY that. Discover for yourself who you are, and then just be that.
The second is mine, “The meaning of life, is for life to have meaning.” To me, this means that everyone should strive to do their greatest work, to make your everyday tasks meaningful, to create something that will outlast your work, life, task, etc., and if you aren’t doing this, your life is meaningless, and you might as well have never existed.
By Alyssa Choiniere
Most people don’t realize the work that goes on behind the scenes to fill every glass of water, said Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County Water Quality Superintendent Mark Stoner.
Even though it’s often a process that is not fully appreciated, Stoner said he gains deep satisfaction in the knowledge he is providing customers with a resource that is essential for life.
“Knowing that what I do benefits public health gives me all the satisfaction I could need, that what I do effects so many people for the better,” he said.
When Stoner describes his job to people, he said they are surprised by the process required to bring clean water to their taps. Knowledge of the work involved often makes customers see things differently when they turn on the faucet, he said.
“I feel that people take fresh, clean, potable water at an affordable price for granted, until they learn the purification process and see the result of all the watchful eyes on analyses and compliance with the regulations,” he said.
Stoner said the field he works in is often changing. He has a degree in chemistry and enjoys the science and technology behind his work, the puzzle of solving chemistry problems and integrating new technologies into the process, he said.
“I think the most interesting thing is being able to experiment with and evaluate new technologies and chemistry associated with water treatment and quality,” he said.
Innovations in science and technology are continually being introduced. Stoner tests them out and experiments to see whether the new ideas will benefit MAWC and its customers.
“There is always something new and novel on the horizon,” he said. “It’s very fascinating to me, to be involved in solving some of these problems and coming up with solutions for the future.”
His work continued during the COVID-19 pandemic as he and other MAWC employees worked to maintain water quality.
“During the COVID shutdown, everything was virtual, communication with team members improved as management staff held virtual meetings to keep things moving for the work groups as well as for the company,” he said. “My water quality staff still had to be present both in the plant, as well as in the field to maintain sampling and compliance, to ensure that water being provided to our customers was as safe as always, and that any quality issue was handled quickly and efficiently.”
Stoner said virtual meetings improved their overall communication. Employees have returned to the office, but he said they have continued to utilize the virtual communication measures that became necessary during the shutdown.
Stoner also said that customers seemed to gain an appreciation for MAWC workers and the importance of their work in delivering clean, safe and affordable water.
“I think the customers realized during COVID that water utility workers are essential employees, and that carries over to the present,” he said.
The Indian Creek Water Treatment Plant is in Dunbar Township, Fayette County, alongside the upper Youghiogheny River. It supplies MAWC customers south of Route 30 with their drinking water, along with North Versailles. It also treats water sold in bulk to Belle Vernon, Pleasant Valley, and Pennsylvania American Water for customers in the Connellsville and Uniontown area. It can provide bulk water to Monroeville as well. The plant recently won an award from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection—and it’s not the first time we’ve been recognized.
The prestigious Area Wide Optimization Program (AWOP) Award recognizes MAWC’s filter plant optimization efforts.
In January 2018, when temperatures dipped below zero for portions of three weeks, there were 198 water line breaks, 150 frozen meters and 39 service line leaks reported.
Because of the severe weather, those totals were nearly half of all the breaks reported in all of 2017. MAWC crews had to leap into action.
For the month, MAWC distribution crews logged 8,663 overtime hours, 5,866 hours more than in January 2017. The customer service call center received nearly 3,000 more calls than the year before, and the water treatment plant staff produced much larger amounts of treated water to keep customers in service. Approximately $360,000 was spent in January for materials to repair the leaks and in lost water.
While those numbers may seem like a lot, the MAWC distribution system totals approximately 2,400 miles of water mains, and that's not counting its portion of service lines it owns.
“This is why we invest in our most important resource – our employees. They are the ones who get us through,” said MAWC Business Manager Brian Hohman.
Continuing pipeline investment and replacement is MAWC's strategy to ensure system reliability and limit service disruptions, Hohman added.
This winter, the U.S. Government's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has predicted a higher temperature average, but an increased chance of precipitation.