Friday, February 29, 2008

A Visit to Sheahan Pumping Station

In honor of last week’s It’s Easy to be Green theme, water conservation, I decided to visit Sheahan Pumping Station (near the University of Memphis), one of MLGW’s ten pumping stations. I wanted to see firsthand how our amazing water is pumped from the Memphis Sands Aquifer into our homes.

The Sheahan Pumping Station is one of MLGW’s oldest. It was built in the 1930s on an old plantation. (The plantation house and barn are still adjacent to the pumping station, but they have been modernized considerably!) Sheahan has three separate buildings—one for pumping, one for aeration, and another for filtering.

When Sheahan was first built, it operated on steam and required 181 people to work three shifts around the clock. Today, the facility runs on electricity and it only takes one water treatment operator four hours per day to service the plant. (The facility is monitored 24/7 by our Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition system.) However, it takes a lot of electricity to power the pumps. Sheahan’s average monthly utility bill is $25,000-$30,000!

Our drinking water is trapped under impermeable clay, so when it is pumped out of the ground, it's a cool 65 degrees. It is then aerated. These two factors help give our water its refreshing taste.

The aeration building is like a giant waterfall. It gives off the most pleasant sounds and when you climb to the top, it is cool and misty inside. I imagine that many employees find a reason to visit the aeration building in the middle of July!

Considering the name of this blog, I feel compelled to mention that all of MLGW’s aeration buildings have bird screens to keep them from making the lovely environment their permanent home.

When the water is aerated, it splashes over rocks. This increases the surface area of the water and reintroduces oxygen, allowing any absorbed gases to escape.

Once the water is aerated, it goes to the filtering building to be filtered and to have sodium hypochlorite and fluoride added. There are ten gravity fed filters in the filtering building that utilize seven layers of support media (i.e. gravel and small rocks).

Every 70 hours, the filters are backwashed to remove iron build-up. I got to watch this process, which was very interesting. The process only takes a few minutes and the power of the water makes it sound as though a freight train is rushing through the building!

In the basement of the filter building one can see the color coded pipes that make it easy to distinguish where the filtered and non-filtered water are going. These colors are the same at pumping stations all over the United States and Canada, which means that a person trained in Memphis could walk into a filtering station in Toronto and know exactly what was what.

Each of MLGW’s pumping stations has an underground reservoir containing 20 million gallons of water. The underground reservoirs keep the water cool and protect it from algae.

The Sheahan Pumping Station also houses MLGW’s Water Quality Assurance Lab. Technicians routinely monitor our water supply and handle customer complaints. The lab technicians are highly trained & certified with access to top of the line technology. (And they get to wear white lab coats to work!) They keep extremely detailed records and quickly know if there is a problem with our water.

I was really amazed by the inner workings of the pumping station and can see why it is such a popular spot for school groups. Contact MLGW's Community Relations Department at 528-4820 to see the pumping station for yourself!

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