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Apr 18

Keeping Drinking Water Safe

Posted on April 18, 2022 at 10:19 AM by Shelby Abner

Behind every faucet turn that draws on Brownsburg water, there’s Plant Operator Ralph Sweet, who makes sure drinking water meets certain standards and is thoroughly filtered before reaching homes.

“I’m responsible for 25,000 people,” said Ralph. “It’s my job to make sure every person has safe and clean water to drink.”

As a certified plant operator, Ralph determines when to change chemical-feed rates and monitors details like how much water flows through Brownsburg’s two water plants. In addition, he checks wells daily for leaks, takes and logs readings, and takes over 1,000 residential water tests a year to ensure water is safe for consumption.

“I have to be a scientist, a chemist, and a biologist to analyze water samples and know what adjustments to make,” Ralph said. “I also have to be a mechanic when the machinery doesn’t work properly and a mathematician to understand the numbers I’m collecting daily.”

The Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) requires monthly, quarterly, and annual samples for testing by a certified lab. Ralph collects over 400 samples from Brownsburg homes a year and submits the reports to the state.

“That’s one thing about the job, it’s a lot of responsibility,” Ralph said. “If I don’t do my job right, I could go to jail. It’s all on me because I’m the one signing off on the report every month.”

Drinking water comes from groundwater pumped from eight wells drawing water from the White River Basin. When water enters the plant, iron and manganese are filtered out and chlorine and ammonia are added for disinfection and bacteria control. Purified water is then pumped to homes, businesses, or one of Brownsburg’s two water towers.  

water treatment plant pipes

The entire process is automated through a computer system that sends Ralph alerts on his phone if anything changes at the plant.

“If something goes haywire the system will call me,” Ralph shared. “Sometimes I can make simple adjustments on my phone and sometimes I have to go to one of the treatment plants. It could be one or two in the morning, but I still have to handle it.”

Ralph has worked for the Town of Brownsburg for almost 20 years. Before that, he worked at the Indianapolis Zoo for ten years handling their water supply and maintenance and Steel Dynamics in Pittsboro in their water division.

“My life has pretty much always been about water,” he said.