Skip to content Skip to left sidebar Skip to right sidebar Skip to footer

Crew keeps waters calm, pure at treatment plant

Mike Jackson likes to think of his department as the quiet one with the big impact. As long as he and his staff at the Jonesborough Water Treatment Plant do their jobs well, he said, no one should even know they exist.
But everyone, he admits, depends on them more than they realize.
“I like what we do,” said Jackson, director of water treatment for the town. “We're a needed service. And we're part of what makes up a community.
“Most communities have to have two things to exist: electricity and potable water. Everything else you might call gravy. We're the potable water.”
And that makes them anything but gravy. With more than 30,000 customers dependent upon their work, Jackson and his crew have little time to waste each day. “We're 24/7, just like Dell. Christmas is just another day,” Jackson said.
With a water system rating consistently coming in at the 99 out of 100 range, as well as a recent commendation, along with Jonesborough's water distribution department, from the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation for exemplary work during the Aug.5-6 storm, it's clear they're using those days and hours to the town's advantage.
But Jackson brushes off any praise. It is, he believes, merely a case of doing the job and doing it right. And that's what he has concentrated on for more than 33 years.
“I always tell them, they had water when I came here and they'll have water when I leave,” he said. “It's the operators and doing the job right that counts.”
At water treatment, that's what they focus on. While water distribution may be the department designed to get the water to each spigot, Jackson's goal is to ensure that once it gets there the customer is pleased.
“We're highly regulated. We do all the required testing,” Jackson said. “And we surpass by a wide margin all the requirements.”
This doesn't happen by accident, Jackson said.
First, he believes the water treatment staff is some of the best around. They're committed, well-trained and hard working. “I myself have a bachelor's degree from East Tennessee State University in environmental health, and a Grade 4 filtration and Grade 2 distribution, the two highest classes in those categories,” Jackson said.
Next, crew members know what they need to do and are dedicated to doing it right. Or, as Jackson adds with a smile, they at least know who to call if they run into trouble.
“I'm usually down here 7 days a week,” he said. “Just to check on things and help out if I'm needed.”
Everything begins with the river. “Of course you have to have an intake, a water source,” Jackson said. “For us that is the Nolichucky River.”
The crew's job is to make sure that Nolichucky River water is purified to the point where it is qualified to run out of faucets throughout the region.
“Coagulation, sedimentation and filtration: Those are really the three things that remove the dirt from the water,” Jackson said.
Because the town's water source is the Nolichucky River, they must also always remain aware of weather conditions, both nearby and further upstream. Four inches of rain in North Carolina, for example, can rapidly change the condition of the river downstream. In general, crew members have only 10 to 15 minutes to make necessary adjustments, so they must always be alert, he said.
“Then there is disinfection, the adjustment of pH levels and the addition of a corrosion inhibitor,” he said. “Everything we do is regulated by the State of Tennessee and the EPA. And we are constantly monitoring to be alert for problems. Some of our monitoring is continuous. We also do our own lab testing every four hours, around the clock.”
Every minute of every day, each staff member is committed to keeping Jonesborough's water safe, Jackson said. But don't think that means a hectic, stressed-out workplace. If you do, and you stop by the plant some day, you might be surprised.
“I always said, if you see everyone frantic and running around at a water treatment plant, that's the time to get worried,” Jackson said.
“Now, if you come in, and it's all calm and quiet, that's a good sign. That's us doing our job.”