The Water Log

Dec 05

The Island of Misflushed Toys

Posted on December 5, 2014 at 1:04 PM by Jenny Craft

Over the years, some interesting things have turned up at our Plum Island Wastewater Treatment Plant.

This collection of rescued toys on display in the lab was aptly named “The Island of Misflushed Toys” by our plant staff.

The Island of Misflushed Toys - Charleston Water System

“Island of Misflushed Toys”, so named by Dexter Clyde, Operator at the Plum Island Wastewater Treatment Plant. Photo courtesy of Patty Iler, Chemist. (Yes, these toys have been cleaned and disinfected.)
“One day someone brought in a cute toy they found in the step screen, so I washed it off and put it up on the counter. We started collecting them and it just got to be a thing,” said Patty Iler, Chemist.

Small misflushed toys are pretty harmless, but other things that people flush or pour down the drain on purpose do cause problems, namely wet wipes and grease. Fats, oils and grease clog pipes and wipes get balled up into large masses that jam pumps and clog pies. Even wipes labeled “flushable” cause clogs.

Remember the golden rule: Only flush pee, poop and toilet paper! Everything else should go in the trash.

As much as we love our island of misfit toys, we’d like to keep it small.

What not to flush
Washington Post article on "flushable" wipes clogging sewer systems
Oct 13

How are we doing? Highlights from our Customer Survey

Posted on October 13, 2014 at 4:28 PM by Jenny Craft

Over the last ten years, we've conducted periodic customer surveys to measure satisfaction with our water service, sewer service, and customer support.

This year, in addition to the phone survey, we held focus groups to learn more about our customers’ expectations, key drivers of satisfaction, and preferred methods for making a payment and getting information about their account or service. The focus group feedback led to new survey questions about communication preferences and new services.

Thank you to the 400 customers who responded to the survey. We appreciate your feedback, and we’re using the results to identify and prioritize improvements, as well as to inform future planning. Below are the key takeaways from the survey results.

Questions? Contact Jenny Craft, Communications Manager.

Overall satisfaction with Charleston Water System remains high
Respondents gave Charleston Water an average overall satisfaction rating of an 8.8 on a scale of 1 to 10, where 1=not satisfied at all and 10=very satisfied. The average rating has been between 8 and 9 for every survey, showing a trend of consistently high satisfaction.

What’s most important to customers?
Customers said the following factors are key to their level of satisfaction with their water utility:
  • Reliable water and sewer service
  • Quality drinking water
  • Water that tastes good
  • Good customer service (caring, courteous and helpful)
  • Quick response to a problem
  • Easy bill payment options
  • Value—good service for the cost

Respondents gave CWS high ratings on all satisfaction factors except value
Just under half of the respondents said CWS is doing a very good job of providing good value for the cost of water and sewer services. This, combined with a high number of free-response comments about high sewer rates, points to “value of services” as a key opportunity for improvement.

Satisfaction with water quality has rebounded after the 2012 algae-induced taste and odor episode
A combination of recent improvements at our treatment plant, which enable us to better remove the harmless but unpleasant earthy-musty taste and smell associated with Springtime algae in our source water, and mild algae growth the last two years, resulted in a marked increase in customer satisfaction with water quality and taste.

Customers want to receive notification about planned or emergency service interruptions
In the event of a water service interruption, most customers expect us to call or text them with information. We don’t current have this capability, but it’s something we’ll be looking at based on this feedback.

Moderate interest in live chat, Facebook, a CWS app, and access to water consumption data
We don’t currently offer these services, but focus group participants expressed interest in them, so we asked about it in the survey. About a third of survey respondents said they would be very likely or somewhat likely use these services. We’ll consider this in determining if or when to move forward with implementing these services.

Aug 20

Toledo’s Toxic Algae Bloom: Could it Happen Here?

Posted on August 20, 2014 at 12:49 PM by Jenny Craft

Last weekend’s “do not use” order for tap water in Toledo, Ohio made national headlines and has left many people wondering, could that happen here?
The short answer is it’s possible, but not likely.

Even if a harmful algal bloom were to impact water quality in our primary source of water (the Bushy Park Reservoir), we would switch to our secondary source, the Edisto River, which is not affected by algae blooms. Charleston Water System is fortunate to have two separate and abundant sources of water.
How does algae affect tap water?
Algae has long been a thorn in the side of utilities that rely on surface water sources, particularly lakes and reservoirs. Algae requires still water, sunlight, warm temperatures, and nutrients to thrive. In these conditions, algae cells can multiply quickly and result in an algal bloom.
There are many types of algae. Some species release toxic compounds when the algae cells die. Excessive growth of these toxin-producing algae are known as harmful algal blooms. This is what happened in Lake Eerie, the source of drinking water for Toledo.
Has Charleston Water System ever had a harmful algal bloom?
Fortunately, no. But we have experienced a more common algae-related issue: Taste and odor problems.
The type of algae that occurs in Bushy Park isn’t harmful, but it can release compounds that have a distinctive, unpleasant earthy/musty taste and odor. These compounds (MIB and Geosmin) are difficult to remove and may noticeably affect our water’s taste at very low levels (5 parts per trillion!).
These taste and odor problems tend to occur during the spring and summer, when conditions are ideal for algae growth. After a severe earthy-musty episode in 2012, we improved the way we monitor for MIB and Geosmin in Bushy Park and installed a new powdered activated carbon system to better remove these “earthy” compounds.
For the long term, we’ve partnered with the US Geological Survey (USGS) to conduct a four-year study of the Bushy Park Reservoir. Now in its second year, this study will provide us with data on the conditions in the reservoir that affect algae growth and overall water quality. This data will provide us with information on which to base any long-term plans for protecting and improving water quality in Bushy Park.

Bushy Park Reservoir
Bushy Park Reservoir
Protecting sources of drinking water
The Toledo incident is a reminder of the importance of protecting sources of drinking water. One way everyone can help is by using fertilizer correctly. Excess nutrients from over-fertilizing can run off into surface water sources and contribute to the severity of algal blooms.