Reader Profile: Don Jensen

Oct. 24, 2015

As superintendent of the George B. Prindle Water Plant in Highland Park, IL, Don Jensen has overseen significant system improvements over time. He is an industry mentor for those just starting to grapple with water service infrastructure and needs. Highland Park, a north shore Chicago suburb, has fewer than 30,000 residents but its water treatment plant serves five additional like communities. The surface water plant draws from Lake Michigan.

The water utility has come a long way, having begun with an artesian well in 1889 and 2,000 customers. At one time, the water quality was so poor that residents dubbed it “liquid mud.” But technology upgrades have brought steady improvement.

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Recent enhancements have increased the drinking water output from 21 million gallons per day (MGD) to 30 MGD using new ultrafiltration treatment technology. This includes an Evoqua Water Technologies system built into an existing portion of the water treatment plant after a two-month testing required by Illinois EPA.

Other upgrades include updated chemical storage areas, new low lift pumps, new Cummins NPower diesel generators, new access control and CCTV systems, updated boilers and ancillary systems, a new HVAC system, SCADA integration of new equipment, and new automatic transfer switches, switchgears, and transformers.

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The George B. Prindle Water Plant staff at the recent Grand Opening celebrating completion of the Plant upgrade/conversion project, pictured from left to right:
Don Jensen, Walt Willing, Ted Leffert, Jim Chang, Gale Young, Paul Zegan, Luke Armitage, Marianne Evangelista, Cory Smith, Chris Cizek, and Henry Peskator.

While not an arid region, Jensen has overseen a water conservation and efficiency program that includes tiered rate plans, odd/even address sprinkling restrictions, and a requirement for smart sensor installations on new lawn sprinkling systems installed after May 1, 2013—along with public education on water conservation and efficiency. The program was honored with the 2014 Wege Small Cities Sustainability Best Practices Award by the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative.

What He Does Day to Day
“The past two years have been a whirlwind,” says Jensen. “I’m feeling like the plate-spinning circus performer trying to complete the upgrade/conversion project while operating the old process as it was decommissioned, all the while ensuring continued production of high-quality potable water. Even with the project completed, we are all on the steep side of the learning curve with the new ultrafiltration membrane system and many new pieces of equipment to master and debug.”

A typical day involves purchasing; seasonal budgeting; interaction with vendors, consultants, public, and wholesale customers; employee training and supervision; planning near-term and long-term projects; administration of the city’s cross connection control program; troubleshooting process control problems; and recordkeeping and regulatory reporting, among other tasks.

What Led Him Into This Line of Work
After earning a B.A. with a double major in biology and German from Carthage College, Jensen worked as a Lake County public health sanitarian. Five years later, he wanted a change. He took a job as an entry-level water plant operator at the Lake County Public Water District. “After seven years in that job, I applied for my present position where I’ve just celebrated my 29th anniversary,” notes Jensen.

What He Likes Best About His Work
For Jensen, it’s the variety of tasks that underscores his job satisfaction. “In this field, we need to know about mechanics, hydraulics, electricity, electronics, chemistry, microbiology, state and federal regulations, control systems, and computers,” he says. “There also is a good deal of interaction with the public and elected officials. No two days are the same and we are seldom bored here.”

His Biggest Challenge Managing people is the most challenging part of his job, notes Jensen. “I come from a technical background and find inanimate objects to be more predictable,” he says. “While we have a great group of professionals working at out plant, there are the inevitable ‘people’ problems to solve.” Additionally, the recently completed two-year plant upgrade project was the most technically-challenging experience in his tenure, says Jensen. “Accomplishing a comprehensive renovation and process technology conversion while continuing to provide safe drinking water to 60,000 people gave me a few more gray hairs,” he jokes. 
About the Author

Carol Brzozowski

Carol Brzozowski specializes in topics related to resource management and technology.

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