By Nikki Jamieson
Although the end of April proved turbulent for the Vauxhall Regional Water Treatment Plant, it has been nothing but calm waters for May.
During their regular May 9 meeting, the Municipal District of Taber discussed the recent events at the plant. With a new Uninterrupted Power Supply (UPS) unit in place, there should be no more problems with system pressure, at least in the near future.
“Effective last Friday, the new UPS system was installed at the plant and all of the control cards have been delivered,” said Derrick Krizsan, CAO for the M.D. “So we have three cards on hand, three back-up cards — (a) network and two control cards — and everything has functioned fine since last Friday.”
Krizsan said they still needed to reprogram the site’s operating system to allow the pilot pump to continue to operate, should they have another system failure, in order to prevent pressurization issues.
Deputy Reeve Dwight Tolton inquired about whether they could add surge protection outside of the UPS unit. Krizsan said that they added it to the M.D.’s administration building during some upgrades, and would look into it.
“I had some wild spikes at my place, and I had nothing but trouble,” said Tolton. “And I had stuff that had protection on it, for some reason, it still fried the dish or the panel or my software, and it has surge protection. So this surge protection thing, this is a big deal.”
“When the system is down and they go to restart, they ask you to turn off your fridges and all your stuff that’s using power, because that’s the stuff that’s going to get surged. Well, if you’re not home, what is going to happen? It’s not going to help. So this new water plant is fitted with very high tech stuff, but it just can’t handle a couple of extra volts.”
“Well something blew through there, probably wasn’t a couple of extra volts,” said Bob Wallace, M.D. councillor, referring to the believed cause of the UPS failure at the plant. “Something blew through there big time.”
Wallace noted that on new pivots, they have blow-out protection in case of a lightning strike. Tolton added that a lot of new infrastructure had added surge protection, but the plant may have been overlooked for it because it was in a rural area.
“There’s a possibility of an oversight, because Vauxhall is rural. It’s not within the City of Lethbridge, it’s a different concept.”
“And you’re on the edge of town, so you’re catching rural power,” said Tolton. “And when these systems go down, when they energize it, that power is coming from miles.”
Council wondered if they needed to get it approved by the water commission before going ahead with it. Tolton said he didn’t believe that the surge protection decision would have to go through the water commission, as it “should be operational,” while Coun. Tom Machacek was concerned about going over the water commission. Krizsan said he would consult with Vauxhall CAO Cris Burns to make sure that the town would be OK with the M.D. doing that, and would get back to them by their next meeting.
On the morning of April 27, operators at the Vauxhall water plant were doing a routine test on the different systems, including one on the back-up generator. When switching power from the utility service to the generator, the UPS unit failed, causing the failure of three programmable logic computers, which control all functions in the plant, including water distribution.
Operators commenced with emergency procedures, including manually operating a distribution pump, but bypassing automated pressure sensors caused the system to become over pressurized, causing the four water main breaks within the town of Vauxhall, causing water conservation notices to go into effect and truck fills closed.
In the early morning hours of April 29, the first water main was repaired, and over the course of the next few days, the remaining breaks were repaired, with the fourth and final break being repaired on May 1.
The water remained safe to drink but due to the limited production users were asked to limit their consumption for emergencies.
On April 28, the water plant was reported as being back at operating full capacity and truck fills reopened, but on April 30, in the early afternoon, the conservation notice went back into effect, due to pressure problems from the plant due to a power failure. The conservation notice was lifted on Monday, May 1, and no problems have been reported since.