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Elkins Water Plant hosts region’s first Area-Wide Optimization Program

Submitted photo The Elkins Water Plant played host to the local region’s first-ever Area-Wide Optimization Program.

ELKINS — Regulators from across the United States recently gathered at the Elkins Water Plant to take part in the region’s first Area-Wide Optimization Program.

The program, which was designed by the federal Environmental Protection Agency, encourages local water utilities to exceed current regulations by optimizing performance of existing facilities without costly capital improvements.

Officials from AWOP met with six water regulator representatives, including one from Elkins, from different regions of the U.S. to learn how to use the AWOP approach in running plants that use membrane treatment.

Seven state drinking water programs also took part in the workshop, as did the director of the Association of State Drinking Water Administrators. Three regional EPA offices and the EPA Technical Services Center in Cincinnati, Ohio were also represented.

“This workshop is for regulators who don’t get very many chances to actually go hands-on at a membrane treatment plant,” Wes Lambert, chief operator of the Elkins water system, said of the training.

“Membrane technology is still new in the United States and especially here in West Virginia, and regulators are still figuring out what the goal posts should look like,” he said. “It was really encouraging for me and my team that they would pick our plant to come to as part of the process of shaping regulations for the whole nation.”

Besides focusing on membrane data integrity and discussing the drinking water that is produced by membrane plants, the workshop discussed how plant operators could improve in other areas of plant operations, such as maintenance and data management.

“One reason this workshop needed to take place in a working membrane plant is because these regulators want to get a firm understanding of how accurate this kind of system really is,” Lambert said. “They don’t want to base their regulations on the manufacturers’ claims because these systems may perform differently out here in the field.”

Lambert noted those in attendance were impressed by the record-keeping and transparency at the Elkins plant. He also felt the training was valuable to everyone who attended.

“We hear that a lot of systems aren’t always welcoming to outside eyes, because they might be afraid deficiencies could be discovered,” he said. “Personally, I welcome visits from people of this caliber to help evaluate what we do, because it’s a great learning opportunity for all.

“This really was time well spent. This is a field where if you aren’t constantly learning, you are going to fall behind. Everyone learned a lot at this event, including me.”

Elkins cut the ribbon on the new $37 million water plant in July 2018.

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