One day at Carson City’s Quill Water Treatment Plant is much like the next.
There was that time about 20 years ago when the computers failed and the plant had to be operated manually for a day.
But that was a one-time occurrence and now the facility can be operated and monitored remotely by iPads and even cell phones, according to Brandon Mathiesen, water production supervisor.
The possibility of another computer meltdown is nearly nil, he said.
Or there’s the occasional brownout and power failure because the power line from Incline Village is prone to problems.
That’s been mitigated by a $141,000 Caterpillar diesel generator with a 200 gallon tank approved for purchase in 2014 and now installed outside the building.
“That’s all automated, the plant doesn’t even shut down, it switches to the generator,” said Rit Palmer, water operations supervisor. “It can run the whole plant indefinitely.”
Security is tight too, with cameras and alarms and concrete barriers along its long driveway from Kings Canyon Road.
“Homeland Security came and did an assessment and all they said to do was put in those K-rails,” the large concrete slabs, staggered at the end of the drive, to foil trucks from driving into the building, said Mathiesen.
And then there’s summer, the busy season, when water usage in the capital jumps to an average of 20 million gallons a day from 4-5 million gallons daily in the winter.
That’s when there’s less surface water, supplied by Kings Canyon and Ash Canyon creeks, and the city must rely more on its groundwater delivered via 32 wells.
During the summer, the plant mixes much more of a slurry made from diatomaceous earth mined in Lovelock, which is pumped into tanks where it adheres to 35 large, round screens and removes the contaminants in the water.
Every day about two dozen, 50-pound bags of the earth are hauled up and poured into two tanks that mix and continually churn it until needed so it doesn’t harden like concrete.
Once the slurry goes to the tanks and does its job it drains into holding ponds outside the plant, where it eventually dries up and is hauled off to the landfill a couple times a year.
“It’s the same filtration system used by breweries and wineries,” said Mathiesen.
The clean water is pumped into a 300,000 gallon chlorine injection tank behind the plant and then, via gravity, into a 4 million gallon tank from which the water is delivered to the system and into homes.
The water that comes into the plant, from a pipeline in Ash Canyon, is remarkably clean, making the cost of treating it orders of magnitude lower than in other places, said Palmer.
The plant handles between 1-2 million gallons of water a day, 3 million to 4 million gallons when runoff is high, and has a capacity to process about 4.6 million gallons.
The facility is designed for, and could be built out, to handle 9.6 million gallons daily, said Palmer.
When the plant’s five operators, plus Mathiesen, aren’t mixing slurry or monitoring controls, they’re doing routine maintenance on equipment inside the plant or out in the field working on the system that includes 15 storage tanks, 15 booster pump stations that deliver water to higher elevations including Lakeview and Timberline, 32 wells, 44 pressure regulating valves scattered throughout the city, about 270 miles of water mains and 4,200 fire hydrants.
“There’s always something to do,” said Mathiesen.