From tornados to ice storms, natural disasters and other emergencies can leave us feeling vulnerable and out-of-control. Whether it’s the federal or state government, or our own families, planning for these unwelcome events is becoming more commonplace. One of the top concerns is securing access to safe drinking water.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, “there are approximately 150,000 public water systems in the U.S.” serving more than 300 million people. These public water systems are responsible for treating and providing safe drinking water at all times, especially during times of emergency. While some residents’ first instinct may be to fill the bathtub with water, this is not the best solution.
One reliable way a public water system can treat ample water for use during an emergency is to provide a standby power source. Many regulatory agencies and advisory groups1 recommend the use of standby power, though it is not always required.
Providing standby or backup power at existing drinking water treatment facilities can be the most reassuring decision a utility can make. In Kentucky, the cities of Nicholasville and Frankfort are two examples.
- The City of Nicholasville has a 1,500-kW diesel generator at its water treatment plant (9MGD). The City elected to install standby power generation for 4.5 MGD of treatment capacity during power outages.
- The Frankfort Electric and Water Plant Board constructed a 3,500-kW diesel power generation facility at its 18 MGD water treatment plant in Frankfort. Dual 1,750 kW diesel power generators with closed transition paralleling switchgear were installed. The new facility provides an emergency power supply to the water treatment plant and portions of the distribution system during an unexpected power outage. Without the new power source, a water outage would occur within two days during a major power outage, affecting a service area of more than 15,600 customers.
When talking with representatives from these Cities, some common themes arise: protection from Mother Nature, self-sufficiency, superior customer service, and, peace of mind.
David Billings, PE, Director of Water Operations with the Frankfort Plant Board, Frankfort, KY, says, “The standby power project was in the best interest of our customers to meet their needs during an extended power outage.”
Tom Calkins, retired Director of Public Utilities with the City of Nicholasville, said, “We elected to install the standby power generation for two reasons. First, our specifically dedicated power transmission line to the water treatment plant is seven miles long and vulnerable to service interruptions from weather related issues.”
Second, we also service over 35,000 people from our water treatment facility, and the peace of mind gained by knowing we have reliable service is well worth the monies spent,” says Calkins. “The standby power generation facility also allows us to remove the dedicated power transmission facilities from service to perform maintenance, when required.”
Additional Generator Considerations
Making the decision to establish dedicated standby power at an existing water treatment is the first step toward building confidence in a community’s preparedness. Additional considerations regarding installation and use of a generator include the following:
- Maintaining Your Generator. It may be a good idea to designate certain people responsible for making sure the generator is functioning properly. Emergencies don’t happen every day – and hopefully never. Nevertheless, the generator needs to be ready for use when you need it. In addition to scheduled maintenance, owners will want to run the generator periodically under the actual load required to maintain its readiness.
- Fueling Your Generator. An owner may want to weigh the differences between diesel-fueled generators and natural gas generators. Diesel versions are less costly but require careful storage and maintenance. Natural gas versions – an acceptable option for smaller than 150 kW-sized generators – are more expensive but are easier to maintain and cleaner for the environment.
- Powering Your Generator. You can’t just plug it in. An owner must install auxiliary power transfer equipment to prevent accidents that may be caused by back feeding existing utility lines.
- Situating Your Generator. Because it’s an emergency generator, it must be located above potential floodwater levels and protected by a weatherproof enclosure. A portable generator needs a flat, unobstructed surface in a well-lit or easily observed area to prevent theft or vandalism.
Finding a way to ensure greater reliability—and a little extra peace of mind—in the delivery of safe drinking water during emergencies is becoming more common. And the resources to help in making the decision, such as the 10 States Standards and the EPA, are plentiful. If you need to talk with someone about your decision, you also can email Mike Jacobs, PE (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Wayne Roberts, PE (email@example.com) or call 859-223-3999.
1 The Recommended Standards for Water Works, commonly referred to as the “10 States Standards,” includes in its General Design Considerations (Part 2.0), a recommendation for standby power (Part 2.6). It says, “Dedicated standby power shall be required by the reviewing authority so that water may be treated and/or pumped to the distribution system during power outages to meet the average day demand.”