The Man Who Watches Buffalo's Water

SAMUEL CAMPAGNA, water- treatment supervisor for the city of Buffalo, N.Y., laughs when he admits that he thinks of water around the clock.

Driving to work in the morning, Mr. Campagna is already thinking about turbidity levels - the degree of suspended particles in his city water system. He also wonders about the impact of small zebra mussels, tiny water urchins believed to affect the water's taste and odor.

Then there are new federal and state environmental rules to master. Clearly Campagna is into water in a big way.

And well he should be. Campagna is responsible for ensuring that the millions of gallons of water that move through Buffalo's water-filtration plant are free of impurities; meet federal, state, and local standards; and make their way to consumers.

Buffalo's filtration plant is one of the largest on the US East Coast. The plant currently pumps 100 million to 110 million gallons (379 million to 416 million liters) daily.

The water's source is Lake Erie, next to which Buffalo, a city of some 315,000 people, is located. The water flows by gravity through filtering screens to the plant.

Polyaluminum chloride is added as a coagulant to trap particles of dirt and debris in underground basins. Waste materials are recycled or eliminated into the sewer system.

Campagna has watched the progress of Buffalo's filtration plant for over two decades now. For 20 years, he was plant chemist - responsible for ensuring that the water was up to required grade. The plant chemist will check for bacteria counts and proper chlorine and fluoride levels.

As a chemist, he was able to acquire the required license for treatment supervisor - what in New York State is called a "grade 1-A certificate."

Campagna says that he is constantly expanding his knowledge of water and water rules, through reading or attending conferences. And since he has a background in chemistry, he is abreast of purification requirements.

Last summer, Buffalo's water supply had an unusual taste and odor problem believed related to zebra mussels; currently, Campagna is helping the city determine the origins of lead and copper contents in the water flow.

Campagna says he feels that consumers are far more careful about water conservation than ever before. Water is cleaner than ever, he says. And when there are problems, Campagna says with a laugh - such as those involving taste or smell - he's "the first to hear about it," starting with his own family at home.

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