El Dorado Springs utility director moves on

Posted September 26, 2013 at 9:44 am

City Manager raises Cain

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NEW UTILITY DIRECTOR – El Dorado Springs City Manager Bruce Rogers has named Tom Cain as the new El Dorado Springs Utility Director filling the vacancy created by the resignation of Eric McPeak after 13 years in that position. Cain has 41 years of service in the city’s Water Department. His first day on his new job was Sept. 12 supervising a department which totals 19 employees.

After serving 13 years as utility director for the City of El Dorado Springs, Eric McPeak announced his resignation in early September to go to work for JCI Industries, an equipment supplier for power plants, water plants, wastewater plants and large industrial customers. His last day on the job was Sept. 11.

Before McPeak left office, the Sun sat down with the utility director to learn about the utility department from his unique perspective.

Q. What is the job of the utility director?

The director actually oversees the entire El Dorado Springs utility department which is the electric department, the water department and the wastewater department.

Q. How many million dollar operation is that?

That’s about a six million dollars a year operation.

Q. And it makes some money for the city, doesn’t it?

Well, we like to see those numbers coming in the black, of course. As far as making money, it is really not designed to be a huge moneymaker. We like to set the rates very close to what our costs are. We do have some money in reserve for emergencies.

Q. Like the water main break?

That wasn’t a big cost item on a cash basis. We hold some cash in reserve for emergencies, but ultimately we like to keep the profits real close to what our costs are. We keep the rates as low as possible.

Q. The public might not understand you having a cash cow there.

Back in the olden days, the electric utility could generate bigger profits as the cost of energy was a lot lower and your overhead costs were lower. Now the cost of energy has escalated so our margins are much tighter and, or course, everything is high. We haven’t had any really substantial rate increases over the past 15 years.

Q. What has been the major accomplishment in your 13 years?

We have had a lot of very high impact projects for utilities. One of the largest is the new wastewater treatment plant. That was accomplished with a lot of our own labor forces to build that plant. The scope of the project was very large. It was a very large sum of money. That is our biggest project since I have been here.

Q. Did EPA change its mind on the irrigation system you put in out at Nine Wonders so you had to go with the reeds?

Actually, that’s not all totally correct. The deal with the irrigation system basically was we were only able to place so many inches of water per acre per year on that irrigation facility. Now, 15 years ago when they built that facility, the regulations were not as stringent as they became over time. And new regulations reduced the amount of water we could actually put on that property. So, the problem was: we were going to have to buy a whole bunch more land and install a whole bunch more irrigation to meet the new standards and it was just not cost effective to do it.

Q. You were about to tell me about your second big project.

Yes, it was Sub Station No. 2. We added 25 megawatts capacity to the electric system. It as a big, big deal. We were hurting on Sub Station 1. We had exhausted our capacity on Sub 1. That new sub station put a lot of capacity into the system that we needed badly. That was a big project.

Q. Do you have the back up you need? It still all comes from the west, doesn’t it?

Actually our vulnerable spot is from that tower on Hwy. 54 right there at the Nine Wonders property into town. At that tower, the main feed comes in from the west and the backup feed comes from the south from KAMO.

A semi-truck could run off the road and clip one of those poles and knock our electrical system completely out.

We do have six megawatts of back-up generation. The city added the diesel-fired units in 2003 or somewhere in there – three two megawatt units.

That will keep the town running of for the most part. We do have another 750 KW unit down at the wastewater plant.

We are pushing on seven megawatts. Our average usage probably runs in the seven to eight megawatt range. We will peak out at about 13 megawatts. It runs anywhere between six and 13.

Q. You peak out at 13 megawatts during air conditioner season?

Correct. That will usually happen in July or August.

Q. What other big projects have you done?

We did all the work on the downtown project with the new lighting.

Q. What about replacing waterlines?

We’ve been replacing waterlines for the past eight years. We have a self-supervised water main replacement program. Self-supervised means that we got received a permit from the Department of Natural Resources to replace approximately 55,000 feet of water main. There were close to 400 house services to replace.

That was on a five-year program. We were not able to actually accomplish that much so we’ve received another five-year extension on that permit. We are still working our way through that 55,000 feet. We are in about year eight of that.

Q. Are you eliminating dead end lines?

There are some loops that are being completed when they can. Mostly it is for flow. We are taking out smaller diameter pipes and putting in larger ones trying to get as much flow as we can for fire protection.

Q. Are you using PVC to replace the old cast iron pipes?

We are.

Q. Are there some advantages to that? A guy who had worked on a water system somewhere told me that in old cast iron pipes, you have a layer of deposits that is covering bacteria. If you disturb that you will pollute the water.

If you look at the physical make-up of a cast iron pipe on the inside, it’s not smooth like plastic, it’s rough. Residue will build up.

As far as bacteria, it’s a place that bacteria could collect, but I wouldn’t call it bacteria. It’s more of a sediment issue. If you’ve got bacteria, you’ve got have big problems.

Q. Do we have any cast iron pipe left?

We do. We have about 26,000 feet of it.

Q. And that’s the five-year plan to get rid of it?

We are starting to re-focus. Part of that 26,000 ft. was not in our program, but we are re-focusing trying to eliminate all the cast iron pipe.

Q. Any other big projects?

Of course, we made additions to our warehouse facility. Our guys have built several buildings, like down at the wastewater plant – a pump building, a new filter wastewater plant maintenance building. We also completed new street lighting on south 32 Highway and North Main Street.

We have some big projects like the pump control system for the water system. It used to be done by floats. Now we do it on water pressure.

Q. Is that more accurate than doing it by floats?

Yes.

Now, one pump comes on. A minute later, another pump comes on, etc. Then they turn off in sequence when the towers are full.

Another big project – We completely did a full GRS mapping system. Our entire system – electricity, water, wastewater – is on an electronic map.

Q. What does that do for you?

Actually we keep it up to date when we are adding or taking stuff away. We have every pipe size, every pipe type, every water meter, electric meter, poles, transformers, serial numbers on the transformer. We know how long the pole has been there. We know how long the transformer has been there. We have just a huge amount of information about the system on an electronic computer program that we can keep up-to-date daily.

Q. Are the water pipes and all on GPS so you know right where they are?

The pipes themselves have tracer wires in them so we can go out and get right over the top of the pipe and know right where is it located. The GPS coordinates are on the valves which, of course, are right on top of the pipe. Your GPS fire hydrants, poles, manholes, all that stuff.

I also developed a full inventory system and a work order system. They work order system, the inventory system and the mapping system all work in conjunction with each other. Before, we didn’t have anything like that.

Q. You’ve got all your employees trained? They know all about this system? Even though you are leaving the front office, all the rest of this stuff they know about?

Yes, hopefully so. I think we have a huge wealth of knowledge. Tom Cain – 40 plus years on the water system. We have lots of experience in the electric department. I think Rodney Buller has probably got 10 plus years. Wastewater – we still have Larry Mays who is working with us. He works on a part time basis. He has close to 39 years of service. Randy Ridgeway in the water department has close to 30 years of service. There’s just a great amount of experience. The utility staff has decades of experience. They will do a good job.

Q. Did you set up the transformer boxes for the Picnic?

We redid all that. It was an ongoing problem every year. It seemed like every year our load increased. Transformer circuits had to be increased. We had to put in new circuits for all the Picnic service boxes. We took out all those old breaker style boxes. We put in portable units where we can put in the size we need.

Those are single-phase circuits. We can do 120 or 240 volts, either one. Each box has multiple connector styles. We gained a lot of flexibility in those portable boxes.

On Spring Street we still have some of the old ones.

Q. Is that the sum of your projects?

We’ve been doing a lot of work on the sewer system – replacing sewer mains, replacing manholes. We have a TV inspection camera now. It can go inside the line and record video of the inside of the pipe. Then we can look at those and go back and do spot repairs based on what we find with our TV camera.

Q. Does that help?

Oh, yeah. Most of the time what we are finding is root wads coming out of service from a house. That typically is what is plugging a line. It will be a root wad coming out of a service line coming into our main.

Q. Do you use chemicals or do you have to mechanically cut them out?

We do both. We mechanically cut them out then we do a chemical treatment.

Q. What big projects remain to be done?

Our the focus is probably going to be on the water lines. There is 26,000 feet of cast out there that we need to get out of the system. They are going to be concentrating on that, I would say.

The electric system is in real good shape.

We still need to improve the wastewater collection system.

Q. Do you need to work on influx – when it rains too much and gets surface water in your system?

Inflow and infiltration is basically what that is called. That’s what we are focusing on right now. We are trying to locate spots in creek crossings where we have sewer mains that cross creeks subsurface. There is water over the top of the pipe. Well, it is easy for it to get into the pipe.

A lot of our biggest problem with inflow is illegal connections that exist in the system – a lot of gutters, perimeter drains, stuff like that which are connected to the sanitary sewers and flood water into it when it rains. DNR doesn’t want surface water in your sanitary system.

We’re trying to do everything possible to keep that water from getting in there into the system.

Q. How are the reed beds working at the waste disposal plant?

They are working exactly like we were told they would. We haven’t had to haul one gallon of sludge since we started the new plant.

Q. How much sludge did you have to haul before?

Oh, gosh. Lots. It is actually measure in what they call dry tons. We hauled so many dry tons per year.

What we will have to do sometime is take out the material which the reeds have gotten the nutrients out of. It will be the quality of potting soil. We could give it the public. We are looking at probably a cleaning out the beds of once in every 8 to10 years.

Q. How long have the reed beds been in use?

We are in our third year.

Q. Anything else you want to tell folks?

I’ve been lucky to have the opportunity to work with an outstanding work group. The success of the utility department rests on the backs of those guys and their work everyday. I’ve been very lucky to have such an excellent work group. I have enjoyed working with them. My job has been to give them resources they need to get the work done and let them go do it.