Water Wizard Tests Water Treatment Solutions Before Cities Invest Millions

June 20, 2018

John Thom has been investigating water for 53 years to help cities test drive which water treatment solutions might work before they invest millions in building or renovating a treatment facility. He has the kind of knowledge utilities across the country seek out—helping communities breathe a sigh of relief when it comes to their water supply. Even though he technically retired 17 years ago.

His retirement in 2001 lasted all but one week before he was back out helping communities find solutions to their water supply challenges. How does it do it? He travels from town to town with his own mobile laboratory.

Trailer
The SEH pilot water plant trailer gives communities the data they need when making important decisions about their citizens' water supplies.

Thom, a jack-of-all-trades, travels across the country pulling the SEH pilot water plant trailer. The trailer gives communities the information to make decisions about water treatment needs and equipment options before they invest in a specific treatment approach. Every city has a unique set of variables which require specific solutions to treat water. In his mobile trailer, he conducts experiments to help identify the right treatment approach.

If there’s a problem on a small scale in a pilot test, that problem becomes a really big problem once a treatment facility is built.
John Thom

Thom custom-built the pilot water plant himself. During his past experience working as a utility operator, he built similar pilot trailers. As Thom explains, constructing the trailer required some experience. The first one he built didn’t have any plans or drawings. He relied on his deep experience as a water and wastewater operator and educator to build the trailer.

tubes, pumps and ground media
The SEH pilot water plant trailer can simulate nearly any scenario a water utility might face.

Inside the trailer, a network of tubes, pumps and filter media feed into the laboratory where Thom simulates water treatment processes.

John Thom custom-built the The SEH pilot water plant trailer to help communities with their water supplies.

John Thom, a former water and wastewater educator, operations specialist and machinist operates the pilot water plant. The plant gives communities information to make decisions about their water supply, before making adjustments to or building new treatment plants.

“I feel as though I’m a value to the cities we serve and to the industry,” the 75-year-old water operations specialist says. “Plus, I’m a workaholic and I enjoy it!”

But that’s not the only reason he does it. As Thom explains, one of the best parts of the job is the friends he’s made along the way. The soft-spoken, amicable Thom travels from town to town meeting current and former utility workers for coffee, lunch and catching up.

“Part of my job is just getting to know people,” Thom says. “That connection with the communities is something I really enjoy.”

How the pilot trailer works

The pilot water plant taps directly into a city’s water supply where Thom begins his process. Depending on the needs of the community, he helps them figure out the best way to remove manganese, ammonia, iron, radon, radium and a host of other contaminants that might be in a water supply. His processes include anything from chemical mixing and flocculation to settling and filtration. Through these processes, Thom helps communities decide the best possible solution to treat new or existing water supplies so they can enjoy the highest quality drinking water while at same time investing taxpayer dollars wisely.

I always tell people what I do is pry the secrets out of the water.
John Thom

Using the pilot trailer, Thom is able to determine what method will best serve the community he’s working with. Water treatment plants are sometimes built or upgraded using generalized treatment processes. But that’s expensive. Thom’s process helps optimize treatment plant designs and make the most out of budgets and resources.

Related Content: Well Thought Out

“It’s better to make a mistake on a small scale with the pilot plant, rather than full scale,” Thom explains.

The cost of a typical pilot treatment study is a fraction of the cost of a complete water treatment plant design, often less than one percent. It’s also much more cost effective than redesigning an existing plant.

Look inside the pilot water plant

Take an interactive look inside the pilot water plant. Use your mouse to scroll around, looking at the different features inside.

Inside the SEH pilot water plant trailer. Use your mouse to scroll around and look inside. Note: this feature is not available in all browsers.

Bringing it all together

When a city is facing the decision to build new or renovate a treatment facility, it pays off in more ways than one to test potential water treatment solutions prior to making a decision on whether to build new or renovate. The pilot water plant also helps cities make decisions on which treatment approach is best for the community. John Thom has been working and educating in the water industry for decades. It’s a passion he’s followed for more than 50 years. And he isn’t giving up on that passion any time soon. The pilot water plant Thom operates helps keep that passion active and gives communities the answers they need to make smart decisions regarding their water supplies.

About the expert

John Thom

John Thom joined SEH when he retired 17 years ago. Since then he's logged thousands of road miles and used thousands of test tubes to help communities make wise choices to create clean water. He is a machinist, water utility educator, hydraulics mechanic, chemist, water operations specialist and friend of utility operators everywhere. Contact John

Better Projects 101: Practical Tips

Want a better project? Download our free eBook filled with tips on hiring a consultant, stakeholder engagement, project delivery, project management and more.