When the city of Olive Hill sent out requests for energy savings companies to take a look at the city, they didn't know they'd end up with a brand new water treatment plant and metering system. But that's exactly what happened and Brandon Marcum with Harshaw Trane, the company guiding the city through this process, feels the city's forward-thinking focus is commendable.

"I think the leadership team should be recognized," Marcum said.

The city submitted its preliminary engineering report two weeks ago, and the state didn't notice anything at the time that would disqualify the city from starting. In fact, as Marcum noted in the last regular meeting of Olive Hill City Council, the state lauded the city for taking a proactive approach to updating its facilities. But the process still takes time. Marcum said the standard time period is 90 days, but approval could come sooner, or could take a little longer, depending on what the state finds.

But what happens once the state does give approval? A massive update to the water system, which includes a new water treatment plant, new meters, and technology that will help the city improve their efficiency and detect leaks more quickly, saving the city and property owners money on wasted water in the process.

Starting with the water plant, Marcum explained that when they looked at the plant they realized the city was losing 3/4 of the water it produced and the plant itself was beyond its effective life. It still produces good water, but it doesn't do it as efficiently. Leaks and meter inaccuracy were also costing the city money. In the end the recommendation from Harshaw Trane was to completely replace the plant and the city's meters.

The new meters are especially important to the leak detection program. There are over 300 miles of pipe in the Olive Hill system, Marcum said, and while the new system might not be able to pinpoint every leak that is on the city's side of a water meter, what the system can do is narrow the loss down to specific zones. This will allow the city to target those pipes for repair or replacement as necessary. The technology, which includes a small computer on each meter that broadcasts on a protected radio frequency authorized by the FCC, automatically detects these zones of loss. After the zones are located, Marcum explained, the city can then go out and begin trying to find the leak.

"We're trying to give people tools (to be more energy efficient)," Marcum explained.

Not every zone that triggers a change in water usage will indicate a problem. It could just be that someone in that area is using a lot more water for irrigation or filling a new swimming pool. But if a zone keeps coming up in reports it alerts the water company to potential problems. If the city water team isn't able to address the problem with the tools Harshaw Trane has provided, Marcum said, "we can parachute our team in" to assist the city.

The ideal, Marcum said, is to get the city under five percent non-revenue water consumption. Non-revenue water comes from water loss and unbilled water usage. This could include authorized non-revenue use, such as water from fire hydrants used by the fire department, or unauthorized such as water theft, leaks, or meter inaccuracies.

Though it wasn't a part of their energy savings program, the recent replacement of old water lines downtown is another example of what Marcum termed "proactive action from the city" to address that sort of water loss. But the new meters should help the city decide where to focus when they replace any future water lines.

The new meters, when installed, will be "one of the most advanced systems in Kentucky," according to Marcum.

In addition to helping the city detect leaks to save them money, they could also benefit property owners. If, for example, lines freeze and burst in an unoccupied rental property or in a seasonal home while the owners are in Florida for the winter, currently there is no good way to detect that until the meters are read. That means, in the case of out of town owners, that the property could be hemorrhaging water for up to a month. No amount of flooding from a broken pipe is good. But with the new system the increased usage would notify operators more quickly, allowing them to take action to turn off the water to a property, saving the owner on clean-up, damage, and water bills. Since users can also have some usage "charged off" it will also help save the city lost revenue.

"It cuts out waste and allows the city to optimize efficiency," Marcum said. "And it allows them to be more cost effective."

Those new water meters are going in right away. The other phase of the project, the new treatment plant, will take a bit longer even after the city receives state approval.

"There projects do take a while," Marcum said, noting that it will take up to a year and a half to construct the new plant, depending on weather conditions that could impact construction. In that time the current water treatment plant will continue to operate until the city is ready for the complete changeover.

"The team has been doing a great job with an aging asset," Marcum said. "But it was definitely time (for a new plant)."

They have also built in contingencies in case something goes wrong with the existing plant while they are constructing new ones. In a worst case scenario, Marcum said, the city might need to truck in potable water, but he doesn't currently envision any issues in the lead up to the changeover.

"The project has multiple phases to help reduce the load while still producing water," he said. This has already paid off, as Marcum noted in a previous city council meeting, with the staff moving down from producing water around the clock to "15.3 hours" by the June meeting.

Once the existing system is up and running, Marcum said, it's designed to last for up to 50 years, so this plan benefits not just the existing population of Olive Hill, but also the generation yet to be born.

Harshaw Trane is also assisting the city in another energy saving program with their street lights. While the city was looking at replacing one light at a time, using the savings from one LED to replace other lights with LEDs as the money became available, Harshaw's work shows the potential savings and so allows the city to move forward with replacing all of their street lights with LEDs.

Marcum said in addition to the cost savings that come from the lights, which consume only 25 percent of the power that current lights do, this move will also improve the quality of light in the city. Instead of islands of light surrounded by darkness, he said, the city will notice more consistent lighting along the streets.

"The program is very focused on long term improvements for citizens," he said.

Contact the writer at jwells@journal-times.com.

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