Most of us know that our water is filtered and cleaned at Louisville Water’s award-winning treatment plants. But before it gets to our faucets, the water travels through more than 4,200 miles of water mains and is stored in over 30 storage tanks and basins in the water distribution system.
Distribution Water Quality Specialists Casey Doyle and Will Willis, along with other Distribution Water Quality staff, check and monitor the water quality throughout the distribution system so that it meets, and exceeds, drinking water regulations.
“We manage the water that enters our distribution system,” said Doyle, who has been with the company for three years. “Our goal is to keep the water safe and to be proactive in monitoring it because water quality can diminish over time.”
Year-round they are looking for trends and any sign, like warmer water temperatures, that might indicate the need for further water quality analysis and actions.
“It’s similar to a gallon of milk,” said Willis, who has been with Louisville Water for over a year. “You need to keep the milk in the refrigerator in order for it to stay good. Water is no different. As it ages the water quality can degrade.”
One of the primary components of their job is to maintain chloramine throughout the distribution system. Chloramine assures the water remains clean and safe as it travels through the network to the customer’s tap.
Willis and Doyle coordinate what work needs to be performed, and either they or other water quality field staff complete the necessary analysis and checks. In addition to managing storage tank water quality, they watch low use areas. Since water usage has continued to decline, due in part to water conservation efforts, water in the distribution system does not turn over as much.
Today, distribution water quality management requires much more knowledge and water quality and treatment background to understand the more complex issues the staff is dealing with, and to make clear, decisive actions to address those issues in a timely manner. To help with that, the technology for water quality monitoring has vastly improved in the last five to 10 years.
“There has been a huge growth in technology, making it more affordable and available to water utilities,” said Doyle. “This makes us more efficient – when we are out in the field, we can take more sophisticated water quality monitoring equipment with us, or install online monitoring and get an accurate reading in minutes. We can make real-time decisions and take actions instantly for the places we are monitoring.”
Another responsibility of Doyle and Willis is to develop ways to do their jobs more efficiently. One new program they are testing is the use of aerial drones to provide support to water quality, including inspecting areas on tanks that are hard to get to, and aquatic drones to go into tanks and basins.
Doyle said he enjoys outdoor activities, like backpacking, hunting and kayaking, so he loves the combination of office, lab and field work his job offers.
“I can develop plans in the office, prepare my water quality instruments in the lab, but then I can go out in the field and get my hands dirty monitoring water or cleaning tanks, if needed,” said Doyle, who has a degree in Environmental Studies from Eastern Kentucky University.
Willis, who is a self-proclaimed ‘water rat,’ says growing up enjoying lakes and rivers recreationally is what spurred his interest in water. He said he’s happy to have turned his love of the water into his career.
“No day is the same here,” explained Willis, who has a master’s degree in Public Health and Environmental Heath from the University of Louisville. “I might think my day is going one way, then something comes up and we have to go bounce to something else. We have an awesome team here, and that makes our jobs more fulfilling.”