If you make a visit to the control room at Crescent Hill Water Treatment Plant, you might see Lead Operator Tim Mills clicking through multiple screens on his computer and carefully recording numbers about filters, hydraulics, turbidity levels, water quality and other data onto different clipboards or in a log book.
“Every hour during the shift, we physically write down the readings on paper,” said Mills. “It keeps us actively engaged, and the clipboard readings and log book serve as a backup to our computer system.”
Keeping that log book and data is just one of many duties for Mills. As plant operator, Mills is responsible for the water quality, hydraulics and pressure of the water distribution system and the monitoring of the pumps. Mills uses the human body as an analogy to explain Louisville’s water distribution system. He says to think of the city as the human body and the Crescent Hill facility as the “heart” of the city.
“The human heart pumps blood throughout your body, and as it does, it starts with the main arteries then branches out to smaller veins,” explained Mills. “Our water system is similar to this. The plant is the heart of our system with our pumps that pump out into our transmission mains, and then they too branch out to smaller mains.”
He also says that main breaks are like heart attacks or strokes, and to help prevent them, he and his team must monitor the water pressure in the distribution system, much like blood pressure in the human body.
“We monitor the system pressure from many locations and watch the discharge pressure right here at the plant,” said Mills. “We make minor to major adjustments to make sure our community is provided with water.”
Plant operators typically work with their assistant plant operators in 12 hour shifts from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. or 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. depending on their schedule. Crescent Hill has four lead operators and four assistant operators, and B.E. Payne has four lead operator. Mills and assistant operator Shane Settles work together on shifts.
Mills says that his department is a 24-hour-a-day operation because the plant never shuts down. That means whenever you turn on your water at home, day or night, holiday or weekend, water is always flowing at the tap.
“Even during bad weather, whoever is here will remain, or we will provide transportation to get people to and from work,” said Mills, who has been with Louisville Water for more than 19 years.
He thinks that customers would be surprised at the level and depth of monitoring that the plant operation team does. Mills walks the facility every day on shift and takes water samples to compare with water samples obtained by the lab.
While there are automatic alerts that are programmed into the system for such things as pressure thresholds, plant operators are also looking at the data for trends that might indicate an issue. Their goal is to be prepared and prevent issues so customers don’t notice any changes in their water supply.
“We are watching every screen on our computers and looking for anything unusual with the filters, basins, tanks, reservoirs, sludge lines or chemical feeds,” said Mills. “We also prepare for upcoming weather that might affect booster pump stations, tanks, towers and reservoirs, like power outages.”
If Mills sees anything unusual, he evaluates the data and makes changes to correct it. And if necessary, he makes phone calls to an on-call supervisor, Allmond Avenue inspectors or the maintenance department.
“We can see patterns, and if we see abnormal trending that tells me that I need to investigate and troubleshoot what the issue might be,” said Mills. “It could be someone working in the field, a fire hydrant that got flushed, a main break — just a number of things.”
His brother, Ted Mills, who is a retired inspector for Louisville Water, encouraged him to work for the company. Tim started as a general laborer and cycled through many of the different departments at Louisville Water.
"That experience helped to pave the way to where I’m at,” said Mills. “When I came here and saw the importance of the plant, I was drawn to it. Coming to this department, I felt like there was a whole lot of things for me to learn, and that I could take on more responsibility.”
Mills said he understands the importance of his job and is proud to be a part of bringing safe, clean drinking water to Louisville Water customers.
“I have a unique appreciation for what I do — because I live in Indiana, every time I cross that bridge, I am seeing the body of water that provides for the city, and I see the city that I work for,” said Mills, who married to his wife Tammy and has two daughters, Kira, 11, and Kayla, 6. “After being on a trip to Africa, where people have to walk long distances to even get water, I know that water is a luxury that should not be taken for granted.”