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High water marks: Natchez Water Works operator honored

Lance Webb, the manager for the Natchez Water Works water plant on Cedar Lane, tests the pH levels in the water that the plant is distributing to the city. He checks the pH and fluoride levels once a day and checks the chlorine levels three times a day. The Alabama-Mississippi section of the American Water Works Association named Webb operator of the year. (Sam Gause/The Natchez Democrat)

Lance Webb, the manager for the Natchez Water Works water plant on Cedar Lane, tests the pH levels in the water that the plant is distributing to the city. He checks the pH and fluoride levels once a day and checks the chlorine levels three times a day. The Alabama-Mississippi section of the American Water Works Association named Webb operator of the year. (Sam Gause/The Natchez Democrat)

When most folks get up in the morning, they might walk into the bathroom, turn on the tap without thinking and splash a little water in their face before turning it off again.

When Lance Webb does it, however, that’s only the first of many interactions he has with the City of Natchez’s water supply. As the plant manager for the Natchez Water Works water treatment plant, he’ll spend the day consumed with water concerns.

The Alabama-Mississippi Section of the American Waterworks Association honored Webb, who has worked at Water Works for 21 years, as the operator of the year in late 2014.

The operator of the year award coincides with the period for which the Mississippi Rural Water Association recognized Natchez Water Works as having the best water in the state. The Water Works system also received a perfect score from the state department of health this week.

Webb said he was surprised at the recognition because he had not been aware of it before it was given.

Natchez Water Works Superintendent David Gardner said the recognition is “a big deal” coming from an organization with 1,200 member water systems.

“It is quite an honor, because the organization takes it quite seriously,” Gardner said.

Lance Webb, the manager for the Natchez Water Works water plant on Cedar Lane, looks at the flow of water throughout the city using the plant’s computer system. (Sam Gause/The Natchez Democrat)

Lance Webb, the manager for the Natchez Water Works water plant on Cedar Lane, looks at the flow of water throughout the city using the plant’s computer system. (Sam Gause/The Natchez Democrat)

Webb’s duties include overseeing the chemical feeds — chlorine and fluoride — at the water treatment plant, testing chemical balances in the water, daily checking, servicing and maintenance of the city’s five wells and pumping systems and maintaining the grounds around them, among other things.

Webb also takes the water samples sent to the state health department and maintains the city’s former water treatment plant on Brenham Avenue on a weekly basis even though it is not used in the daily delivery of water to residences.

Webb said he tries to be proactive when maintaining the Water Works equipment.

“I can hear the motors at the plant as soon as I get out of the truck, and I can know if it doesn’t sound right,” he said. “If things get worn out, we need to replace them early so they don’t get too expensive to fix.”

Even when he isn’t at work, Webb has his phone tied to an alarm system that calls, emails and text messages him to let him know if something in the water system isn’t working.

“I don’t want anybody to not have water, so when there is a storm around I go into high stress mode,” he said.

The aquifer Natchez Water Works taps into is 1,000 feet below ground, and the water in it was rainwater during the time of the dinosaurs.

Since falling millions of years ago, the water has had  time to naturally filter through the earth removing impurities. Because of that, it needs very little treatment.

And because the water is so pure, keeping the chemical treatment within the appropriate parameters is especially important, Webb said.

“If you put too much chlorine in there, you’ll get that chlorine smell, but if you actually put too little chlorine in the water, it will make that smell, too,” he said. “You’ve got to do it right.”

In the nomination he submitted, Gardner praised Webb’s integrity, management of staff and willingness to make sure things work himself.

“I have seen Lance volunteer to man all aspects of the plant when staff members are not available,” Gardner wrote. “He never complains, is very conscientious, wants to do a good job, and is always dependable and loyal to Natchez Water Works.”

Gardner also praised Webb’s dedication to water conservation and ability to follow through with a job until it is complete.

“You are only as good as the people you have around you, and I am blessed to have people like Lance,” Gardner said.