Our award winning, state of the art, Water Treatment Facility has been in operation since 2004. The plant uses a membrane filtration system, one of the first of its kind in the state, when it began operations. Since 2004, the plant has made many improvements to stay ahead of our fast-growing county. While the plant currently produces around 2.9 million gallons of water daily, it is capable of producing 10.3 million gallons of water daily.
Our water treatment plant is a big part of our mission to be prepared for tomorrow. Maintaining the overall health and functionality of our water treatment plant is critical to providing clean water to our service area. Planning and preparation for the future of water supply to Blount County includes projects to accomplish objectives such as increasing plant productivity, operational efficiency, water quality, testing procedures, and a many other purposes. We are always evaluating where we are now with where we need to be in the future and evolving our plan on how to accomplish our goals.
Our water treatment plant uses a membrane filtration system as part of the multi-step process to clean the source water that is collected from the Tellico Reservoir. The set of filters being replaced have been in use for fifteen years. In 2013, a project began to replace 150 filters over the next five to six years. This project was concluded this fall with the last of the selected filters being replaced. Today, the plant has 600 filters in production and produces around 3 million gallons of clean water daily, with a top capacity of 10 million gallons daily.
The total production capacity of the plant is tested annually. Water quality is tested around 1,800 times every year in a variety of elected and state required testing, and we are very proud to say that since 2011 we have consistently maintained a score of 99 or better on our Sanitary Survey performed by Tennessee Department of Environment & Conservation. The average lifespan of the filters is around 8 years. South Blount has been able to almost double the life span to 15 years due to the high quality of water found in Tellico Reservoir and taking meticulous care of the filters. In the fall of 2019, an autopsy was performed on the filters, which concluded that even at 15 years old the filters were operating at 80% by comparison to new filters, which is phenomenal. In fact, South Blount Water Treatment Plant is the only plant in the U.S. that can accomplish this type of life span with a membrane filtration system, and it is thanks to our pristine water source and our employees who are devoted to providing quality water and taking terrific care of our system.
Providing clean water requires workers that are certified and trained in the treatment process. Today, around 50% of the certified plant operators around the state of Tennessee will reach retirement age within the next ten years. At our plant we have four of our six trained operators planning to retire in the next decade. The state-level certification exam for trained Grade III and Grade IV Operators is very demanding, with less than 40% of applicants passing the exam.
There are many different treatment techniques used at water and wastewater treatment plants, and thus many skills required to be certified. A Grade III and IV Operator uses physical, chemical, biological, and algebraic concepts and principles to create sustainable outcomes in their treatment plant. They need exceptional communication skills and the training to operate the equipment, instruments, and various software in use at their plant. Pellissippi State Community College is offering a new associates degree program targeted at preparing individuals who are interested in pursuing these certifications and filling this growing need for our industry. The program is the first of its kind in Tennessee and will provide students an advantage by incorporating hands on experience with on-site training, and education on the specific skills needed in preparation for state exams.
To develop the program, and ensure it was effective in preparing students for success, Pellissippi State developed an industry advisory committee comprised of professionals from the water and wastewater field. Our Plant Manager and AL Scott, our District Manager served with others on the committee. Al Scott encourages students interested in a career in the water and wastewater treatment field. He says, "it is extremely satisfying work and a unique opportunity to serve the community. In Blount County, the population is growing rapidly and as the county grows so will South Blount Utility."
For more information on the program visit the program website at Pellissippi State, click here