Water, water everywhere

Grant Terry, the Kerrville superintendent of water production, points to the record book from 1989, when he started working at the water plant, in comparison to the binders of records he’s kept since. He predicts by the time the shelves behind him are full, he’ll be ready to retire.

Kerrville’s Superintendent of Water Production Grant Terry says, “The drip stops here.” He’s in charge of everything to do with the city’s drinking water.

He says that the Kerrville water plant is tasked to making sure there’s an adequate volume of potable water, at adequate pressure, to reach every user, even during the summer when half the water Kerrville uses is “thrown on the ground” watering plants. He adds that the water coming out of Kerrville’s faucets is cheaper than bottled.

A lot of managing the plant is paperwork, he says. “Between the federal level, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, there’s a lot of effort going into compliance. If the EPA can detect something, they will regulate it. When I started working here they were looking at parts per million. Now they check on parts per quadrillion.”

Terry says that for a small city, Kerrville has a very diverse water supply. He processes surface water from the Guadalupe River, native groundwater via the city’s wells, and the water stashed in aquifer storage and recovery wells. He says, “People from San Antonio and other places come to Kerrville to study our water system. When we drilled our ASR wells in 1990 they were the first in Texas, and the third nationwide. Now we have a billion gallons of clean water stored there.”

The water from the Guadalupe also starts out pretty clean, he says. River water usually measures 3.0 “nephelometric turbidity units,” or NTU, which means it’s very clear in comparison to most places. The plant draws water off the top of the river, filters it, then treats it with electrically-charged chemicals.

He says, “There are particles in the river that are too small to filter. When we add the chemicals, the particles clump around the charged particles, and we can remove them. Then we can disinfect the water.”

He says Kerrville lives over a wonderful aquifer, and can pump clear water from the wells, which is then treated with chlorine.

After the water is ready for use, it’s pumped to the city’s 11 water tanks on hills around town.

Terry says, “Gravity is free. Every 2.31 feet we raise water into the tanks equals one PSI of water pressure. All of it is regulated by a very complex system of pumps that moves water where it’s needed. It’s a constant ebb and flow during the day and night for existing users, and we also have to adjust it when new water systems are added. We do that according to our 100-year water plan.”

Terry says Kerrville’s first wells date from the 1940s. The water plant was built in 1980 to use the river water.

He says his job, working for the city, is part management, part coordination, and part problem solving. The plant now runs 24/7/365, and he’s on call as well.

“May 24, I was eating dinner in the Humble Fork, when I got a call from the plant that a tornado was approaching. By the time I got there we had lost city power, so we hooked our pumps into generators and kept the water moving while we made repairs.”

Terry says he was born in Bulverde, a fifth-generation Texan. “My fourth grandfather was Thomas Jefferson Rusk, the general who took over command at San Jacinto, after General Sam Houston was wounded.”

His family moved to Tulsa, Okla., when he was three. They lived there for 15 years, and Terry graduated from Memorial High School in 1977. He started college at the University of Oklahoma.

He says, “But everyone at OU hated Texans. In 1978 I broke up with a girl, and my Mom said, ‘You don’t have to stay there.’ Twelve hours later I came to Ingram and took a job at T.J. Moore Lumber Yard.”

He says his father, Sam Terry, was running the Riverhill Cafe in the mall, and Terry took over as assistant manager in 1979, and worked there full or part-time until 1992. He started his career in water production in 1988, running the water system for Sam and Kay Terry’s Hideaway Park Retirement Center. He still works there, though now the development is owned by him and his sister, Jan Engler. Terry’s training his son, Jeremiah, to work on the system, in addition to being a photographer.

Terry says he was hired by the Upper Guadalupe River Authority, which then provided Kerrville’s water supply, in April of 1989. He was kept on when the city purchased the plant in April of 1998.

“Back in 1988 there were few rules,” he says. “Now we have to test the city water every four hours, and keep the records for 30 years. When I started at UGRA the plant was open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Now, under Kerrville, it’s 24 hours. The population we serve went from 14,000 to 25,000.”

Terry says he married Cindy Terry in May of 1981. “She was an accomplished musician, and played in many Hill Country bands. She was taken in an automobile accident in October of 2003. We raised two sons. Jeremiah, the photographer/ water technician, lives in Kerrville. Our younger son, Ethan, lives in Fredericksburg. He and Kasie Pritt have six-year-old Evan, and another baby due any time now.”

When he’s not at the water plant, Terry says he likes to kayak the Guadalupe, as well as hike state parks and go dancing. “I’m the designated driver for three or four women. They’ll call me up and say, ‘Let’s go.’ They pay gas and my cover charge, and I get to dance.”

Terry says he also used his experience in water production with Baptist Men’s disaster teams, between 1998 and 2008. “We went on 10 trips, into areas hit by hurricanes, earthquakes, and tsunami. We landed in Sri Lanka right after their 2005 tsunami hit, and we went on other missions in Central America.

I helped install and operate portable potable water systems for the team, and for locals. When I started we had a system that would produce water teaspoon by teaspoon, but later we developed systems where you could stick the intake into a ditch and get seven gallons a minute.”

He says he learned, “You have to step out of your comfort zone to let God use you to your greatest ability, to receive His greatest blessing.”

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