‘Fresh’ water sparks optimism

FAIRMONT – One of the goals when building Fairmont’s new water treatment plant was to eliminate taste and odor complaints.

On a tour of the facility Tuesday, city staff and elected officials reported positive feedback from residents since the plant began producing water in September.

“I had an elderly gentleman who’s lived in Fairmont all his life tell me this is the best water he’s ever experienced since he’s been drinking Fairmont water,” said Butch Hybbert, water supervisor. “… The real challenge will come next summer, but I’m 100 percent confident.”

Councilman Joe Kallemeyn agreed, saying he is now drinking water from the tap.

As with the old water treatment plant, the new facility utilizes a conventional sand filter, but the water now goes through a second filtration process using granular activated carbon. GAC was the preferred filtration choice by a panel of citizens and residents who smelled various water samples that had undergone different treatment methods, back in July 2009.

“It’s like a giant Brita water filter,” said Jason Kosmatka, project manager for Advanced Engineering and Environmental Services.

Observations also have been made about the softness of the water.

Hybbert confirmed the water is softer, not because more chemicals are being used but because the new plant has better control of the chemical feeds, which is keeping the water consistently soft. Out-of-date equipment at the old plant caused the softness to fluctuate.

Other improvements at the new plant can be seen throughout the building:

o In the control room, an employee can monitor all the happenings throughout the plant.

o In the lab, about 10 taps are plumbed in from different parts of the plant, so workers can test the water quality at different stages in the treatment process, without ever leaving the lab.

o The huge building is lit using motion-detector lights, in order to conserve energy. In the upper levels, solar tubes regulate how much electric-powered light is needed in the walkways. During daylight hours, those levels are often lit just using solar power.

o Lime sludge is now pressed into cakes, which are then trucked out. The compression process squeezes out about 50 percent of the water, which is then re-used in the treatment process. In the past, the lime sludge was just 3 percent solids, and the mixture was piped out to the now-defunct lime sludge ponds west of Fairmont.

o Chlorine gas used to be unloaded on Albion Avenue, requiring the city to block off one lane of traffic so the hazardous material could be carried inside the plant. Now the plant uses a machine called Microclor, a sodium hypochlorite generation system, that disinfects the water by making a diluted hypochlorite solution that’s below the hazardous material threshold. The only raw material required for the process is salt, which reduces deliveries and lessens the risks of transporting and unloading the chlorine gas.

“This is a big deal. A lot of people are interested in this,” said Troy Nemmers, Public Works director, noting that other public officials have visited Fairmont to learn more about the Microclor technology.

o For the many materials that still need to be loaded and unloaded, trucks can now drive inside a spacious garage in the new plant, without risking hazardous material exposure to the public.

o Improved security is another feature the new plant offers. Keys are needed to enter each area, and the plant is monitored by camera. In the old plant, an unlocked entrance brought visitors directly into the space where the water was treated, though an alarm did buzz to alert workers.

“You won’t hear the buzzer here like at the old plant, but we know you’re there,” said Hybbert.

The facility will be open to the public for a tour this spring. The date has yet to be announced.