Story by Vince Slomsky
If you live in northwest Pennsylvania, the next time you turn on your faucet and fill up a glass think about this; You’re drinking water from Lake Erie.
But don’t worry, it first makes a very important stop at Erie Water Works.
“The Erie Water Works is a provider of water to a population of about 190,000 people in northwest Pennsylvania,” said CEO Paul Vojtek.
“The water comes out of here and we don’t know where it’s going. It could be going to my house, your house or a daycare center. So once it leaves the pumps here we give the same quality of water to everybody in the city,” said water quality manager John Presogna.
Presogna is one of Erie Water Works’ 110 employees. His responsibility is overseeing the process that makes your water safe.
“It’s the same process we’ve been using since 1913. Take water in from Lake Erie, it goes across the peninsula to our deep well where we add a little chemical to it called poly aluminum chloride and that sort of causes all the dirt particles in the water to clump together. It goes to a sedimentation basin where all that settles out. That’s filtered or taken to the sewer department and what’s left goes to our filters here,” said Presogna.
Back in the early 1900s the city’s water supply used to come from a huge pump called “Big Bertha.” But it could only pump about 20 million gallons of water per day. Compared to the three new, much smaller, pumps, each of which can do 25 million gallons.
But it’s making these types of improvements that CEO Paul Vojtek says may be the most challenging part of his job. After all, it’s you, the customer, that pays the bills.
“To keep the water service to what people expect it does take significant capital investment. And so the struggle is how do you make the necessary capital investments but yet still keep the water rates affordable to our customers,” said Vojtek.
But when it comes down to it, they take a lot of pride in pumping out great water.
“Oh, yeah. It’s like a standard joke around my friends. Every time someone says the water is good, oh, thank you, that type of thing,” laughed Presogna.