This is Where the Rubber Meets the Road

Water Works’ Engineering and Maintenance Division provide crucial services


Employees from the Engineering and Maintenance Division work to repair a water main break that occurred in the community.

 

The Birmingham Water Works Board (BWWB) provides a vital service that requires the knowledge and dedication of the professional and trained individuals in its Engineering and Maintenance (E&M) Division, which works daily to ensure that customers receive the best service that the BWW can provide. Division Manager and Assistant General Manager, TM  Sonny Jones, credits this dedication to the BWWB’s mission statement, which vows, “The Birmingham Water Works Board is committed to providing the highest quality water and service to our customers and future generations.” In line with the company’s mission statement, the E&M Division’s vision statement is, “To be the most efficient, effective and dependable water delivery system in the United States.”

“We grant you that this is a very broad and extensive mission and vision to accomplish,” Jones said.  “It consumes the attention of the E&M Division’s large and professional staff on [a] 24 hour, 7 day-a-week basis.  The design, construction, maintenance and repair of the water system’s infrastructure does not conform to a standard 40-hour a week schedule.  Problems do not seem to care if it is a holiday, or if it is in the small hours of a weekend morning.” 

            As a water service provider that meets the goals set out in its mission, BWWB is experienced at addressing the needs of its customers and makes them top priority when problems arise.

“The E&M Department’s staff is extraordinary at handling all types of problems,” Jones said. “From small problems like a main break on a residential street on a warm summer afternoon, to large crises such as an outbreak of tornadoes in the middle of a cold and rainy night. Our staff is dedicated to solving any customer’s potable water problems as quickly and efficiently as possible, at all hours of the day.”

            The Engineering and Maintenance Division encompasses more than 300 employees in its seven departments. The departments include Engineering, Mapping and Records, System Development, Revenue Water, Environmental Services, Distribution and Electrical, and Mechanical. The tasks of these departments include maintaining and installing assets valued at $1 billion at the time of their installation; changing 15,000 of the company’s 200,000 meters; maintaining 15,000 hydrants; 4,000 miles of pipe; and inspecting water shed construction to ensure water purity.

 

Distribution

 

Of the seven departments, the Distribution Department, is the largest, and managed by Reginald Nall.  

            “If the public is our eyes and ears in finding leaks and other problems, Distribution is our arms and feet in fixing them,” Jones said.

This department is staffed with employees that maintain and repair the distribution system, overseeing 4,000 miles of pipe as well as 1,500 miles of service line. The employees are also responsible for the repair and maintenance of 15,000 fire hydrants and 49,000 valves. Annually, the department repairs more than 7,000 leaks and related problems.  

 “Leaks do not respect holidays nor convenient times of the day,” Jones said. “The motto of this department is that we never leave a customer without water if it can be avoided at all costs.  Our crews work at all hours of the day and night to get this job done and done right.  Fourteen leak crews are backed up by seven valve crews and fourteen dump truck crews in fixing leaks; in addition to cleaning up the repair debris and eventually leaving the repair site better than they found it.”

            By visiting www.bwwb.org, and clicking ‘Report a Problem’ customers are able to compose a message stating the problem, as well as its location. In doing so it better assists the organization in reporting a leak or related issues in the Distribution Department.           

 

System Development

 

The System Development Department employs 17 Project Coordinators and Engineers who analyze the distribution system’s water capacity. This Department is managed by Doug Stockham, and serves as the first point of contact for any new residential or commercial connection to the company’s system. Engineers and Project Coordinators are responsible for reviewing the design of a connection to determine if the request conforms to the BWWB’s rules and regulations. It is also determined if the design conforms to the best engineering practices of the industry. The application is approved if all of the rules and regulations are met and the design meets or exceeds current best engineering standards. In addition, this department designs and manages the replacement of outdated water mains.

 “We routinely design, bid, install/replace [more than] 85,000 feet or $8.5 million per year of existing water mains,” Jones said. “Two primary reasons that a water main is selected for replacement is (1) improving the customer’s service by increasing water pressure or water volume and (2) eliminating the excessive number of leaks, which wastes precious natural resources.”  

The department also reviews and approves all “Fire Service” installation projects and monitors them once they have been activated, in addition to ensuring that there is no backflow of used water that might contaminate the drinking water supply. 

 

Electrical and Mechanical

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This department manages the maintenance, repair and operations of all water pumping and purification equipment and is on call 24/7 for repairs. The department is headed by John Reyman, and is staffed with electricians and mechanics who are responsible for the repairs of the filter plants’ water filtration, 51 remote unmanned water pumping stations, eight raw water facilities, 51 potable water tanks, 22 raw water tanks, 52 pressure reducing valve stations, 39 district metering sites, plus all operating assets located  at Lake Purdy, Inland Lake and Pawnee Reservoir.

“We also provide support for internal electrical contractor services and labor to various departments. So that we are able to complete capital asset projects that maintain our infrastructure, and update the various water filtration processes to meet or exceed all state and federal regulations,” said Jones.

 

Mapping and Records

 

The Mapping and Records Department is managed by Rhonda Brooks; staffed with 12 drafters, it provides up-to-date maps that accurately illustrate the varying components or assets of the water system. Within this department there are three groups: drafting, GIS, plus records and retention.

Each map and visual aid is recorded and kept as currently accurate as possible at all times in order for the utility to meet all internal and external customer needs. They maintain all of the available information over all of the BWWB’s assets that total an excess of $1 billion. Mapping and Records is also responsible for organizing and storing all permanent records in accordance to the standards set out by the State of Alabama Department of Archives and History’s rules and regulations.

Revenue Water

The Revenue Water Department insures that the BWWB does not incur loss of water from leaks, inaccurate metering, unauthorized use and theft. Geoff Goodwin is responsible for this department, which consists of 51 positions in three groups: Water Accountability/Real Loss; Meter Shop/Apparent Loss; and Revenue Water/Special Projects.

The Revenue Water /Special Projects Group serves as a manager to the other two groups. This group is responsible for annual audits, and special projects assigned by the executive staff, as well as departmental project management. The Meter Shop / Apparent Loss Group handles meter maintenance and the annual meter replacement program. It is accountable for meter testing, water taps two inches and smaller, construction projects related to meter sets, and service lines. Overall the department handles all maintenance related to meters ranging in size from 60 inches down to 5/8 inches for about 200,000 sites. The Water Accountability / Real Loss Group ensures that there is no loss of water. This group is responsible for detecting leakage through 4,000 miles of water main, and approximately 2,500 miles of service piping, detecting leaks that aren’t apparent on the ground surface.

“These are usually long term leaks that are not seen by the public and could run for years before being detected and repaired,” Jones said. The group surveys approximately 300 miles of piping per month and the entire system every two years.

 

Engineering

 

The mission of the Engineering Department is to be the best water utility in the United States and to provide reliable, high quality, and great tasting water to each customer. Chief Engineer, Ben Sorrell, manages the department. To accomplish this mission, the Engineering Department is responsible for maintaining the assets of the BWWB, and keeping them in the highest possible working order. Engineers of the department design and oversee new infrastructure projects, manage and approve designs from outside consultants, and oversee the design and construction of capital maintenance repair and replacement projects. This department maintains the quality of drinking water by solving regulatory problems within the system.

It also develops the yearly Capital Improvement Projects (CIP) and Five Year Capital Improvement Plans. Each department adds projects that assist in enhancing their areas. Afterwards, the Board approves which projects will be designed and constructed. The CIP Budget for 2014 amounts to $54,992,023.

 

Environmental Services

 

The mission of our Environmental Services department is to encourage and protect the health, welfare, and economic well-being of the citizens and businesses in the

Birmingham Metropolitan Area. Toward that end, Birmingham Water has enacted and actively enforces safe and responsible development in its watersheds. The Board has enacted the Cahaba River/Lake Purdy Watershed Protection Policy to help developers and contractors responsibly develop property in the critical watershed area.

The BWWB recognizes that its well-being is inextricably tied to the quality, and quantity of the source waters in the Cahaba River/Lake Purdy Watershed, which is located in Jefferson, Shelby and St. Clair counties. This source of water supply faces a continuing threat from the cumulative impacts of pollution sources generated by certain land uses, and activities in the watershed.  The Environment Services Department inspects and actively enforces this policy, and is managed by Cary Prather.

The utility understands the importance of its customer’s reliance on their service; therefore, the board’s problem solving expertise is perhaps its most important feature.  

 “If a customer has problems,” Jones added, “we do not want one of them to question how they will get clean water for their family needs. Our division may not be the first to talk to a customer when they have a problem, but most of the time we are the last person they talk to.  We are the division that solves our customer’s problems.  As one of our managers likes to say, ‘This is where the rubber meets the road.’”