By Marie Gilmore
When Paul Haskins accepted a position at the Lithia Water Treatment Plant almost five years ago, he knew he enjoyed working with water treatment systems and he knew quite a bit about processes and procedures. What he didn’t realize was that he would become an award-winning operator of the Lithia Plant and would find his career passion and calling at the Lithia station.
This spring, Haskins was honored to receive the American Water Works Association Marvin N. Kaden Award for Outstanding Water Treatment Plant Operator. He accepted the award at a ceremony held at the Gaylord Palms resort in April where the Lithia Plant also received the Most Improved Class B Water Treatment Plant award.
“It was an honor to be recognized,” said Haskins. “We are providing the water for about fifty-five percent of the population of Hillsborough County and most people don’t realize the huge volume of water we produce every day.”
The Lithia Plant was originally built to supply water to South Hillsborough County in 1988. The plant produces an average of 34 million gallons per day. Currently, the Lithia Plant serves residents in South Hillsborough county from Ruskin and Apollo Beach, all of Brandon, the FishHawk area all the way to Falkenburg and across to Thonotosassa. “This is the biggest water facility that the county owns,” said Haskins during a tour of the plant. “We produce most of the water being used in the county every day.”
The Lithia Plant is located on a secure facility just off of Lithia Pinecrest Road and Fishhawk Boulevard. The location sits on 55 acres bordering the Alafia River and Lithia Springs area. On site are four, 5 million gallon water tanks, two giant pipes bringing water into the facility from the aquifer which is fed by 17 area wells and also by a Tampa Bay Water regional pipe system, which blends treated regional water into treated wellfield water. In addition, a 5 million gallon reclaimed water tank helps provide reclaimed water for irrigation use.
“We operate twenty-four hours per day, three hundred and sixty five days per year and are always keeping an eye on the weather and the news and making sure there is never an interruption in water service for our customers,” Haskins said. “We are testing the water analyzers twice per shift or every four hours to verify that the water quality is perfect and has the right chemical makeup.”
The operators and plant managers on-site are on constant watch of the computer monitors operating the entire plant. Monitors are checking water treatment volume, chemical makeup, pressure and amount in the tanks. There is a distinct increase in water usage in the evenings when families return home from work.
“We can peak at 64 million gallons of water per day without putting a strain on the system,” said Haskins. “You can drink out of the sink. In fact, in 2007, we won best tasting drinking water award.”
In addition, to keeping the immediate water usage safe and consistent, the team at the Lithia plant is also responsible for water quality in the distribution system and checking hundreds of water hydrants throughout Southeast Hillsborough County.
“We certify every hydrant once per year,” said Haskins. “And, we completely rebuild every hydrant every five years.” Water pipes are inspected and tested quarterly.
The water plant is closely monitored by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP). The funding for the county’s water utility comes entirely from the water bills.
In 2013, Tampa Bay Water completed a Lithia Hydrogen Sulfide Removal Facility at the Lithia plant. The facility uses ozone to remove hydrogen sulfide and its characteristic rotten egg smell from groundwater supplied to the County’s plant. This $35 million construction bond project replaced the county’s 20-year-old aeration processing system and made a more efficient cycle.
Hillsborough County entered into the water and wastewater utility business in 1967 with the acquisition of two small systems and a customer base of 2,000 connections. Today, the Hillsborough County Public Utilities Department provides 51.36 million gallons of drinking water to 590,293 people, and treats about 39 million gallons of wastewater each day. More than 22 million gallons of reclaimed water are delivered to 16,480 residential and commercial customers each day. The county operates include four major water plants, eight wastewater treatment plants, a biosolids facility, two customer service centers, an environmental laboratory, over 780 sewage lift stations, and over 5,000 miles of pipeline. Visit hillsboroughcounty.org/water.