Overcoming Natural Disasters, This Florida Authority Delivers Clean Water Year-Round

Ample storage and treatment redundancy help Florida’s Peace River water authority maintain consistent quality and reliable supply

Overcoming Natural Disasters, This Florida Authority Delivers Clean Water Year-Round

The Peace River team includes, front row, from left, John Ramsey, operations specialist; and Antonio Amalfitano, drinking water shift lead operator. Back row, Mike Chell, operations manager; Tim Grannell, maintenance specialist; Doug Leath, maintenance manager; and Richard Florit, drinking water operator.

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If you were to describe the Peace River Manasota Regional Water Supply Authority in one word, it would be “resilience.”

Whether it’s Florida’s wet-dry seasonal cycle, its location in the path of damaging hurricanes or the need to keep up with rapidly changing technology, Peace River does what it takes to deliver high-quality water to its customers, around the clock, every day of the year.

That consistency has been recognized with significant awards from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the Florida Section AWWA and the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies.

Seasonal cycles

The authority is a regional water wholesaler. Since 1991, it has supplied drinking water to more than 1 million residents in Charlotte, DeSoto, Manatee and Sarasota counties and the community of North Port. Average daily production from its four-train water treatment facility in Arcadia is 29 mgd.

The authority draws up to 120 mgd from the Peace River. Four vertical turbine pumps (Flowserve) move the raw water through a pipeline to two off-stream surface water storage reservoirs and a special aquifer storage and recovery system.

Together, these can hold up to 13 billion gallons of water. “That’s enough to meet our customers’ needs, even during the drier winter months when we can’t withdraw any water from the river,” says Richard Anderson, director of operations.

Reservoir No. 1 covers 85 acres and was built in the 1980s as part of the original water treatment plant construction. It is essentially a large, 30-foot deep lake that can store up to 500 million gallons. The second 640-acre reservoir was built in 2009 as part of the authority’s most recent expansion, and can store 6 billion gallons.

 “Florida river flows, including the Peace River, are highly dependent on rainfall,” says Anderson. “The availability of high-quality water supply varies dramatically between our summer wet season and spring dry season, so it’s not feasible to withdraw the amounts we need from the Peace River year-round.”

Reliable supply

The reservoirs and ASR system are the keys to reliability. During the dry season when the river quantity and quality are at their lowest, the authority relies on stored water. “Conversely, to replenish, we withdraw more than we use during the wet season when the Peace River flow is high and water quality is the best,” says Anderson. “The water we withdraw in excess of our demand is then stored for use in the dry months.”

The ASR system provides additional supply. It employs 21 wells across two fields. When the Peace River flow is high, surplus water is treated to drinking water standards and injected into the limestone aquifer for recovery later. Injection rates typically range from 5 to 15 mgd. The design storage capacity of the ASR system is 6.3 billion gallons.

During dry periods, up to 20 mgd can be recovered through the ASR system, leaving the Peace River undisturbed. The 2020 Sustainable Water Utility Management Award from the AMWA recognized the authority’s commitment to creating a sustainable water environment.

Consistent quality

From the storage facilities, water is pumped to the Peace River Water Treatment Plant. This facility, named the Most Outstanding Water Plant four times in the last seven years by the AWWA Florida Section, contains four independent conventional treatment trains. It has a total permitted capacity of 51 mgd.

The consistent quality of water coming from the storage facilities is a key to success. “Because of our storage component, we don’t see water quality changes that may be happening in the river due to rainfall, flow changes or runoff,” says Mike Chell, operations manager. “We’re not changing chemical dosages every day because our supply water quality is consistent. Operations are flat, not bumpy. We’re not chasing our tail in response to changing conditions.”

The facility has expanded over the past 30 years, and treatment trains have been added as the population has increased. “Four separate, parallel treatment trains that can be operated as needed give the Peace River staff redundancy that’s nice to have,” says Chell. “We can run two or three, and have one on standby. We don’t miss a beat.”

The treatment processes in the trains are identical. It includes the addition of powdered activated carbon for taste and odor control, and a coagulation/clarification process using aluminum sulfate and anionic polymer with sodium hydroxide for pH adjustment.  

A 12% solution of sodium hypochlorite is used for primary disinfection, and aqueous ammonia at 19% is added (ProMinent chemical pumps) to form chloramines for disinfection before filtration. There are 26 multimedia bed filters (Ovivo) of anthracite, sand and gravel. The finished water is delivered to six on-site ground storage tanks with a capacity of 12 million gallons. From there it is pumped to wholesale customers.

Treatment residuals are sent to sludge thickeners and then to belt presses (Alfa Laval) for dewatering. The dewatered solids are landfilled. A SCADA system (Emerson Rx3i) controls plant operations.

Hard-working staff

Staffing is straightforward, with 12 licensed operators covering three eight-hour shifts, supported by a maintenance team, a compliance team and the laboratory. All told, the authority has 16 licensed staff members. “We need to have that,” says Anderson. “It helped us fill in during COVID and at other times such as during hurricanes and tropical storms.”

“They are our eyes and ears at the plant,” says Chell. “They’re really good about providing feedback and addressing problems. Chell oversees the water plant operators and two utility workers who perform light maintenance activities around the facility. He also supervises John Ramsey, operations specialist, who is responsible for all compliance sampling.

Doug Leath, maintenance manager, leads a team of three mechanics, three instrumentation and control technicians, two electricians, two dewatering press operators and one transmission operator. Tim Grannell, maintenance specialist, provides administrative support through management of annual contracts, procurement and inventory.

Doug Morton, laboratory manager, and Aswathy Warrier, chemist, are responsible for sample analysis, document control and compliance reporting. Kelly Borra, administrative assistant, handles multiple tasks including invoice processing, chemical ordering, scheduling of meetings, and generally responding to requests.

Automation is another key to success at Peace River, “With each expansion, we have taken the opportunity to increase our level of automation,” says Chell. “Because of the highly automated system, the operations staff can run the entire facility with only two team members per shift. Although the facility has expanded over the years, we have not needed to add operators because we are more efficient today.”

Weathering a storm

Teamwork was never more important than in September 2022 when Hurricane Ian, one of Florida’s most damaging storms, tore across the center of the state. The Peace River facility was directly in its path. “The storm was super slow,” says Anderson. “The eye-wall was over us for six hours. We suffered several million dollars in damage — lost roofs and fences, water getting into motors.”

Chell recalls, “Miraculously, the treatment plant components experienced relatively minor problems, so we maintained system pressure and continued to treat and pump clean water. Staff stayed on site for days, some for weeks. We banded together and got water out the door. That’s not uncommon for us.

“Our demand actually went up, from about 30 mgd to 45 to 50 mgd, because of broken pipes in our customers’ distribution systems and water running on the ground. It was touch and go for six to eight hours.”

Wind damage was one thing. Delivery of essentials was another. “Our vendors had trouble getting here,” says Chell. “We needed chemicals — no chemicals, no water. And we needed diesel fuel, too.” Some truckers who normally drive an hour or two to get to the plant had to travel 10 to 11 hours out of their way to make their deliveries.

Anderson gives maintenance manager Leath credit for being proactive, getting on the phone and securing diesel deliveries in the first two days after the hurricane. “We’re still suffering from some of the aftereffects,” he says.

Always improving

Things just keep getting better at Peace River, storms or not. Over the years, the plant has expanded in modules, from the first 12 mgd treatment train to four times that today.

Besides the increases in capacity and service area, the team has kept pace with improvements in technology and equipment. Recent projects include covers over the gravity media filters and improved radio communications.

All the PC interfaces using iFix software (GE Digital) have been upgraded to modern standards. The power feed (Eaton and Allen Bradley (Rockwell Automation) motor control centers) has been hardened. Caterpillar and Cummins diesel generators supply backup power to withstand storms. Large sections of the facility, including the administrative offices, have been rehabilitated.

Says Anderson, “Unit by unit, we’re recoating, replacing filter media, rehabbing or replacing valves. We’re very proactive on maintenance and in deploying new technology as it becomes available.”

Chell adds, “We’re built to run. I call it our water factory.”


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