BUCKHANNON — The Buckhannon Water Department has reason to celebrate.
Tom Landis, chief operator of the city’s water treatment plant on Wood Street, said he recently learned that the plant had been awarded its first five-year AWOPS award, spanning from 2011-2016. AWOPS is an acronym for Areawide Optimization Program. Landis said the program is a voluntary one that utilities can opt to participate in.
“It’s for utilities that are willing to go above and beyond the regulatory requirements,” Landis said. “You’re judged by more stringent guidelines, and you have voluntary goals that you establish. If you succeed in meeting those goals 95 percent of the time, then you’re eligible for the award.”
The AWOPS program is administered by the state Bureau for Public Health, under the umbrella of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Landis said that over the past five years, the city water department has been able to meet the AWOPS goals 98 or 99 percent of the time.
“Out of 130 water systems in the state of West Virginia, we were tied for first place with 10 other systems,” Landis said. “That was quite an achievement. And we’re competing with large systems like Charleston, Huntington, Morgantown, Parkersburg. Buckhannon fell right in amongst the very best.”
The goals water systems participating in the AWOPS program strive for have to do with water quality standards that are above and beyond normal water quality standards, i.e. regulatory requirements as set by the federal government and the EPA. The AWOPS program also checks to see if a water system has violated any state or federal regulations.
“If we had any violations, then we would have been disqualified,” Landis said. “The state looks for system data that’s above and beyond regulatory requirements and they identify those systems that achieve those goals and then of course, we’re rewarded as a means of encouraging us to participate. We get a little award recognizing our efforts.”
Landis said it’s expensive to participate in the AWOPS program, but doing so pays “big dividends” when it comes to motivation for improving water quality. He also wanted to emphasize that winning the AWOPS award was a team effort.
“I accepted this award on behalf of a team effort,” Landis said. “No one person made this award possible. It’s a team effort, so I’m praising the employees. We’re pretty proud of what we do — it’s just sometimes more challenging than others.”
The water department is staffed with seven water plant personnel and seven water distribution personnel.
Buckhannon mayor David McCauley praised the water department for its hard work.
“We are extremely proud of all facets of our water operations,” McCauley said. “We have an excellent staff and excellent facilities and this award is testament to that.”