As a Chattanooga native, I grew up in an area with abundant water supply provided primarily by the Tennessee River.
I transferred to Central Kentucky a year ago to join Kentucky American Water, and have learned that before 2010 water use restrictions here were not uncommon during the hot, dry summer months, and sometimes continued even into the fall.
Before 2010, performing significant maintenance on two water treatment plants our utility operated was simply not an option during many months of the year if it meant shutting one of them down for any length of time. We needed both running at optimum levels to meet our region’s water needs.
Fortunately, much has changed. Six years ago last month Kentucky American Water’s newest and third water treatment facility, located on the Kentucky River in Owen County, made its debut. It was truly a turning point for the region. I was reminded of that recently as I reviewed with my work team Kentucky River flow information, precipitation data and other reports covering the last few months, which were unseasonably dry. In October alone, based on flow rates in the river and what we were withdrawing from it, 10 days would have met the guidelines to request reduced outdoor water usage by our customers, and four additional days would have justified requesting even more restrictive water use.
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But, because of the construction of the third plant, customers were able to maintain their normal usage without restriction. In fact, the plant in Owen County helped us maintain reliable water service during the dry fall of 2010 when Fayette County opened its doors for the World Equestrian Games at the Kentucky Horse Park.
Without it, we also would have struggled to replace the nearly 100-year-old filtration building at our Richmond Road water treatment plant that was completed earlier this year. That building, the heart of the plant, had reached the end of its useful life, was experiencing structural issues that had become safety concerns and was a less efficient facility than the one that replaced it.
The project required shutting down the Richmond Road plant for a short time this past spring, but the Owen County plant helped keep water flowing for our customers. Together, our three water treatment plants provide the necessary amount of water supply, treatment capacity and redundancy that has allowed us to navigate through dry periods, operational issues and much-needed refurbishments at our older plants while maintaining reliable water service for our customers.
The new plant has also allowed us to be better neighbors to downstream river users, because we can at times ease up production a bit at our Fayette County plant while increasing production at the Owen County plant, since the latter draws water from a different section of the river and doesn’t have downstream users.
As we bid warm weather good-bye and welcome fall, discussion of river flows and pumpage statistics will transition into operational talk related to winter weather.
But springtime will be here before you know it, bringing warmer weather and all the activities that come with it. Rest assured, the region we serve is in good shape in terms of water supply, water treatment capacity and redundancy.
Kevin Rogers is vice president of operations at Kentucky American Water.