• Kim Piekos

Head of Water Plant Is Pumped About Providing Clean Water to Residents

By Kim Piekos

You’d never know it’s the city’s water plant. Sequestered behind an impressive gate along Lake Road, the building blends right in. But don’t let that fool you; this place is pumping.

“We are dedicated to providing healthy water to our residents,” says John Gulledge,

Chief Water Plant Operator of the Lake Forest Water Treatment Plant for the past 11 years. “It’s a big operation that requires attention to many details, both mechanical and chemical – one little thing can throw the whole system off.”

"We're a 24/7 operation," says Lake Forest Chief Water Plant Operator John Gulledge.

Knowing he’s helping others keeps him excited about his work. “When I started this job, I was told that, at the end of the day, we do this for the little girl who uses our water to brush her teeth and never stops to think about where that water comes from – she just trusts that it’s safe water,” he explains. “That’s a serious responsibility that sometimes keeps me up at night. What we do here has to be right.”

The water plant draws raw water from Lake Michigan through buried 24- and 42-inch pipes that extend up to three quarters of a mile into the lake. That water is pushed through ultrafiltration membranes and is pumped to residents as demand requires.

The city installed the state’s first cutting-edge ultrafiltration system at the plant in 2004. Nearly 900 five-and-a-half-foot-high canisters holding 15,000 fibers each filter between five million to ten million gallons of water per day during summer months and two million gallons per day in the winter. The cleanest water is then pumped throughout town via five water pumps.

“There is always somebody here monitoring the water-filtration process,” Gulledge says. “We’re a 24/7 operation.”

The water plant has benefitted from installation of a Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) computer system. “Now the eight plant operators can access critical information at convenient sites around the plant and on their phones,” Gulledge explains. “By continuously monitoring pump speed, system pressures, tank levels, disinfectant residuals and membrane system performance, our ability to identify and attend to problems improves greatly.”

Plant operators walk the plant every four hours to physically check operations, including chemical levels. “We are regularly checking on the performance of the many smaller processes that make up the whole,” Gulledge asserts.

A new project designed to monitor the pressure, direction and amount of water flow around town is starting soon. Nine additional pressure and flow monitoring sites strategically located throughout town will provide important information that will be integrated into the plant’s existing SCADA system. “Sometimes, it’s challenging to see exactly what is going on in the system around town,” Gulledge explains. “This will help us understand the system pressure better as it’s operating and see how the water is moving and where there may be hidden main breaks, among other things.” The project is expected to be completed by the end of summer. Each shift, water operators tour the plant, collect lab samples, check chemical levels and calibrate and maintain plant equipment. Gulledge credits his team with being detail-oriented people who know how to troubleshoot problems, even if they are at the plant in the middle of the night by themselves. “We like to keep things steady here,” says Gulledge. “These guys manage lots of information at once and are the ones who keep this place running smoothly.”