Message from the Chairman
Welcome to the fifth edition of H2O News from the Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County.
In business for 77 years, MAWC is the trusted water supplier for more than 120,000 drinking water customers and more than 26,000 wastewater customers in western Pennsylvania.
Below, you can read about how we’re keeping the water flowing even during power outages, view a video on how to prevent a sewer backup in your home, and learn why your electric lines could be affecting your water quality. If you're interested in more, please visit other pages on this website.
Please don't hesitate to contact us if you would like to give us any feedback.
Table of Contents
Trib Link (external): Solar farm could power Hunker Wastewater Treatment Plant
By Alyssa Choiniere
When the Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County’s employees find a new way to treat water or improve their systems, they can’t keep it to themselves.
They share their knowledge at water industry conferences.
Employees may have found a new way to treat water, removing metals using a method that’s never been used in Pennsylvania. They also shared their strategies for preventing algae growth, which is a growing problem at water treatment facilities across the nation. Employees are also using Geographic Information System (GIS) technology to integrate information, increase the efficiency of fieldwork, and keep the public better informed about leaks and projects.
“The beauty of water conferences is that we’re really not in competition with one another, so whenever one water utility discovers something that works, they share it with the rest of the water world, so we form a (cooperative) relationship,” said Anthony Pologruto, MAWC’s GIS Analyst.
MAWC’s innovative approach to treating water has been a hot topic at conferences, and the subject of ongoing tests. Research showed in preliminary studies that using peracetic acid in water treatment removes iron and other metals present in untreated water, while also reducing disinfectant byproducts by about 40 percent compared with chlorine, said Sarah Kocak, MAWC’s McKeesport Water Quality Supervisor.
“Which is a really important thing, because disinfectant byproducts are kind of the issue right now,” she said.
Peracetic acid is a food-quality organic compound. MAWC performed a bench scale study with Hazen and Sawyer, showing promising initial results. The topic was presented in Toronto at the American Water Works Association national water treatment conference in November 2018.
“Right now, peracetic acid is not used by anyone in Pennsylvania for disinfectant byproduct reduction, so we’re really excited about it,” she said.
The next step is a pilot study, which was recently granted approval by the state Department of Environmental Protection. They will run the study June through September to see how the treatment plan works on a larger scale. The tests will be conducted in a miniature version of a water treatment plant. Some issues might pop up, but “it looks promising,” she said.
Depending on the results of the pilot study, they could conduct a full-scale test.
“That would be really kind of groundbreaking, so we’re really excited about it,” she said.
They plan to present the pilot study results at this year’s conference in November 2019. Kocak has also been asked to pen an article about the study in the Journal-AWWA.
Kocak said she always enjoys water quality conferences because of the opportunity to learn new techniques and solve common problems by interacting with other water quality workers in other areas. She said she had the opportunity to network with a woman from a state in the South who said they are also looking into using peracetic acid in their water treatment plant.
Ashley Pilipovich presented at the Pennsylvania Section American Water Works Association conference in April about MAWC’s tactics for preventing algae growth. She is the Water Quality Plant Supervisor at the George R. Sweeney Water Treatment Plant at the Beaver Run Reservoir.
“Everyone was interested because a lot of people are there to see what they can do to keep algae under control to prevent harmful algal blooms or HABs,” she said.
HABs can create health problems, so treatment plants are looking for solutions to prevent them from growing. She said HABs are a new and growing problem for treatment facilities.
“Nobody is really sure why. All of a sudden HABs are seen more often. It could be cleaning up acid mine drainage, more mine runoff where nobody really paid attention to them before,” she said. “It seemed all of a sudden to pop up.”
MAWC uses solar-powered circulators to pump water from the depths of the reservoir. The lack of free oxygen in the water from the deeper portions of the reservoir that's pumped to the surface prevents algae growth. They also conduct regular tests and algae counts. Flow cams make that process more efficient.
Another way MAWC is increasing efficiency is through their GIS technology. The system allows the authority’s 300 employees to send instant digital updates to everyone else in the system. For example, if an employee checks on a fire hydrant, it’s immediately updated through a tablet, said Pologruto.
“So it’s becoming a stronger, faster authority,” he said.
Years ago, that work was done on paper. While MAWC has used GIS since about 2002, the mapping system integration was kicked into high gear when MAWC leadership agreed to invest in the resources necessary to integrate the system in the everyday processes and make business more efficient.
Seeing the information click with people is rewarding, Pologruto said.
“It’s always really fun to see the pencils on the notepaper go when you mention a really cool part,” he said.
He noticed note-taking amp up when he explained GIS systems can be integrated with Computer-Aided Design (CAD) systems through a free extension. The two programs were always separate. Sharing the data between the two programs improves the accuracy of CAD drawings by using the GIS points.
“I like to say I’m saving the world one map at a time,” he said.
The GIS system is also the basis for the MAWC Leaks and Projects Map, which better informs the public how their rate dollars are being spent, and if there’s a service outage, when their water will be back on.
MAWC's McKeesport Filtration Plant and its Indian Creek Supply Filtration Plant are being recognized for producing consistently high-quality water.
Both plants will receive the EPA Area Wide Optimization Program (AWOP) Award in recognition of outstanding efforts toward optimizing filter plant performance.
AWOP is a multi-state effort in which states work together to develop and implement programs that improve capabilities of conventional surface water treatment plants and protect public health.
The AWOP Award will be presented to MAWC at the 2019 Water Works Operators' Association of Pennsylvania (WWOAP) Conference in August. The McKeesport and Indian Creek Plants were judged to be among the top performers which presented data to the Department of Environmental Protection last year.
“We are pleased to be recognized for the superlative efforts of our employees and the quality equipment that our customers have invested in,” said Michael F. Kukura, MAWC resident manager.
The McKeesport Filtration Plant, located in the City of McKeesport, was completed in 1990 with a rated capacity of 10 million gallons per day. The McKeesport Plant draws its water supply from the Youghiogheny River and serves the McKeesport, White Oak, Port Vue and Versailles portion of the MAWC service territory.
The Indian Creek Supply Filtration Plant, located in Dunbar Township, near the City of Connellsville, has a rated capacity of 40 million gallons per day and draws its water supply from the Youghiogheny River. It serves the southern portion of the MAWC service area. This facility was constructed in 1973 and was upgraded in 1979 and again in 2017-2018.
By Alyssa Choiniere
Water isn’t something people think about much unless they don’t have it. This can become an issue when seasonal storms cause power outages that previously also interrupted water service.
Thanks to MAWC's investment in generators, water won’t be something its customers have to be worried about the next time electrical service is disrupted.
Earlier this year, during a severe February storm, 100,000 people were left without electrical power in southwestern Pennsylvania. But thanks to generators that pumped 10 million gallons of water during the electrical outage, 20 percent of MAWC customers weren’t left without water.
“No customers were out of water during the outage,” said Bruce Rubrecht, MAWC’s Distribution Facilities Superintendent.
Four of the generators were installed during a 2016 generator project, and three were installed during pump station upgrades. MAWC also purchased a portable generator, which was used at one pump station, Rubrecht said.
More than 20 generators in total have been installed and upgraded at various locations to keep the water flowing no matter what. Because of the hilly terrain in the region, pumping water requires a significant amount of power. Homes at high elevations are especially susceptible to a water service disruption during an electrical power outage.
MAWC needs electricity to fill storage tanks, which is where customers and firefighters draw their water from. During long power outages, those resources can be depleted. Generators make sure that won’t happen.
MAWC purchased six of the generators for $585,614. Before the purchase, the authority often rented generators. Sometimes that proved a challenge as many impacted businesses scrambled for backup power during outages.
By Alyssa Choiniere
Darlene Testa got her start at the bottom, but says that thanks to a positive attitude and work ethic, she’s worked her way up over 21 years to managing 60 people as Operations Manager today.
Through a series of promotions, she discovered her passion was in customer service.
As a supervisor, she reduced customer service wait times, which she describes as one of her biggest successes. Testa loves the team mentality at MAWC, and gets excited about going to work every day.
Q. When were you first hired by MAWC, and what was your position?
A. I was hired on January 2, 1998, as the second shift janitor.
Q. What made you apply for the position, and did you have an interest in the municipal authority?
A. MAWC is the place to work in Westmoreland County. I was blessed for the opportunity to be a part of it.
Q. When you started out, did you think you would make your way up to supervisor? What were your career goals?
A. I never imagined that I would become a member of management. I knew that I wanted to learn as much as I could about MAWC, and I asked a lot of questions, took a lot of notes and read a lot of books.
Q. What are your duties and responsibilities as supervisor?
A. As Operations Manager of the commercial department, I oversee 60 employees. The greatest responsibility I have is to make sure that our customers have the best customer service experience, whether they are paying a bill or need help with their account.
Q. How did you become interested in this type of work?
A. I held many positions at MAWC: receptionist, customer service representative and meter reader. I worked with our customers every day, whether interacting with them in person or on the phone. I found that was my passion and wanted to get more involved with making customer service great!
Q. How did you show your strengths to achieve recognition and promotions?
A. I always tried to be proactive, not reactive – sharing ideas to improve the customer experience and always lead with a positive attitude.
Q. What advice would you give someone who is starting from the ground-level and wants to achieve the high-level position?
A. Walk into work every day with a positive attitude and a mindset that you will complete each task you are given to the best of your ability. Always pay attention to your coworkers and superiors to gain their knowledge and experience. Always pay it forward.
Q. What do you see as some of your biggest accomplishments?
A. I am very proud of the changes we have made in the customer service department to cut the customer’s wait time from 10 minutes to under 2 minutes.
At one time, there was a lot of separation in the commercial department and now we all help one another and work as a team.
It is a joy to come to work every day.
Q. How did you reduce wait times in the call center you supervise?
A. We implemented a call script so that our customer service representatives could gain all necessary account information to handle customer calls in a positive and efficient manner.
In August, 2016, we changed to all-owner billing. All residential rental properties would stay in the owner’s name and they would be billed directly.
In December 2017, we introduced our web portal. This gives our customers the capability to view and pay their water/sewage billing online. They can easily sign up for E-Billing, ACH and update their emergency contact information.
Q. What are some of the things you have learned in your time with MAWC?
A. Always show compassion. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Be your best self. And tomorrow is a new day!
Q. How have things changed since you first started in your career?
A. Technology is the biggest change. To see how far we have come in 21 years is astounding. And we are just getting started!
Q. Do you have any favorite mottos or words to live by?
A. When I am having a challenging day, I have been known to recite, “Snow White never has a bad day!”
My words to live by: Always pay it forward!
By Alyssa Choiniere
If your water isn’t up to your standards, it might be because your grounding wires aren’t up to MAWC’s standards. We often come across electrical services that have been grounded to water lines.
It’s common in older homes.
“Sometimes it’s easier to do that than it is to do it the proper way,” said Tom Ceraso, the Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County’s assistant manager.
But the easier way isn’t the best. Grounding your electricity to the water line is not only a violation of your MAWC user agreement, but it can also cause poor quality water and pose a danger to MAWC workers.
According to MAWC’s Water Quality Superintendent Mark Stoner, “If your water quality is poor, the grounding issue is likely the culprit."
When a grounding problem is discovered, call a licensed electrician to move the electrical grounding to a separate location. They will typically ground the electricity by putting a spike in the ground in the yard.
The issue of poor water quality is caused by electricity creating a chemical reaction in the pipes.
Usually the piping material used is copper, but it can cause corrosion regardless of what material is used.
“It can also create a safety issue for our guys,” Ceraso said.
When a MAWC worker is checking a meter, working on a line repair or any other kind of service on your property, they’re at risk when the electricity is attached to the water service.
That’s why it’s also important to hire a professional to check or repair the grounding issue.
Keep in mind it’s also a violation of MAWC’s rules and regulations.
Section 13.9 of the user agreement says, “All customers are forbidden to attach any ground wire or wires to any plumbing which is or may be connected to a service connection or main belonging to the Authority, and the Authority will hold the customer liable for any damage to its property and change in water quality occasioned by such ground wire attachments.”
The issue is becoming less common with newer construction with more awareness about the problems it causes. So save yourself, and your water quality and make sure your electrical service is properly grounded.
By Alyssa Choiniere
Cookouts, camping and construction are all hallmarks of summer. When it comes to the latter, be sure to give slow down for all workers out on the roads, MAWC’s workers included.
“I want drivers to be aware of our employees, first and foremost,” said Ryan Kelvington, risk manager for MAWC.
While spring and summer are typically the seasons for construction, MAWC’s workers might be along the roads at any time. Those dedicated workers are on the job 24/7 responding to emergencies, such as a water main break or sewage main line backup.
Workers might pop up at a time or in an area where you’re not expecting construction.
“Be aware of your surroundings. Know there’s a possibility to encounter workers along any type of road, whether it’s a highway or county road,” said Kelvington.
Keep an eye out, no matter what sort of infrastructure those hard hat-wearing workers are upgrading. A few close calls over the years have damaged MAWC’s vehicles in construction zones, but fortunately, no workers have been injured.
“We remind you when driving to be alert and use caution when you encounter any work zone,” Kelvington said. “Please obey all work area signs, wait for traffic control to assist you in safely passing through the work area. Also, maintain a safe speed when doing so (10 mph), and please don’t text and drive.”
While you’re coming home from a long day of work, driving your kids to swim practice or coming back from a night out, remember that MAWC’s workers need to get home, too.
“Your attention, patience and care will help assure that our employees can perform their duties and safely return home to their families,” Kelvington said.