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City of Vandalia moves forward with water treatment upgrades

Posted on Wednesday, December 12, 2012 at 10:23 am

The City of Vandalia’s water tower.

Upgrades to help curb municipal water contaminants at the City of Vandalia’s water treatment plant have been given the go-ahead.

The city issued Hauser Construction, of Wentzville, “a notice to proceed” with $309,000 worth of contracted work at the treatment facility. Overall upgrades for the plant have been estimated at about $600,000 to aid the city in staying within safe drinking water standards.

Work at the plant includes updating equipment and new amenities such as an ammonia treatment to help lessen greater-than-allowed levels of trihalomethane (THM) — a by-product of treating water with chlorine.

Darren Berry, chief water plant operator, said new structures at the plant include two buildings. One of those buildings will house new carbon-feeding equipment, which helps knock out taste and odor issues. The second building will consist of three separate rooms for the standard chlorine and fluoride treatments, as well as a possible ammonia addition, which will be a new disinfectant option for the facility.

Both chlorine and fluoride feeds will receive new equipment with the fluoride feed moving from inside the plant to the outside.

“If all of this work that we’re doing (to the plant) doesn’t control the THMs, then we’ll switch to chloramines, which is the ammonia treatment,” Berry said. “We wouldn’t stop the chlorine treatment altogether, we would add ammonia just before the water gets to the million gallon water tank.”

He said adding ammonia would help knock down THM levels — the treatment doesn’t form THMs as a by-product like chlorine -—  but the possible addition isn’t a cure all.

Adding the chloramine treatment would require the city to notify residents on kidney dialysis, whom may face increased health risks from drinking the city’s water.

Berry said the hardest part of the possible switch to ammonia would be the notification process and ensuring residents that may face health issues consult their doctors to address possible concerns.

“We have a lot of things going on to avoid switching to chloramines,” he said, though the city isn’t opposed to the switch.

Berry said the ammonia treatment infrastructure will be put into place through work contracted by Hauser and if the chloramine treatment is needed, ammonia will be ordered and put to use.

“It would be an easy switch over as far as getting things switched at the plant,” Berry said.

Other contracted upgrades to the facility are:

• The installation of a filter backwash and actuators to slow the flow of water and facilitate treating contaminants

• The replacement of four dated pumps at the facility

• The replacement of gallery piping and fittings

Vandalia will install and connect the carbon and chlorine feed equipment in-house.

Berry said determining whether the upgrades are indeed correcting the contaminant issue will be hard to tell within a short period of time.

“Even  with upgrades, even if I pass in December, which I historically do, I could very well fail in the next quarter’s sampling because of the running average,” Berry said.

Testing is completed at the plant on a quarterly basis.

He said September samples failed third-quarter testing as THM levels were again too high for safe drinking water standards. September results were received in early December. He said another quarter of samples is due this month.

“I would probably need a couple of good quarters to get the running average lower,” Berry said. “If we weren’t doing steps to make (the water) better, DNR would be looking at us really hard. We’re working well together to alleviate this problem.”

Berry said Earthtec, a copper-based algecide treatment of water from the Vandalia reservoir being applied at the raw-water intake, has proven to be a successful venture. Earthtec treatment started late last summer.

He said removable soft covers recently installed over the basins at the treatment facility are also working well as the covers lessen the overall amount of chlorine needed to treat raw water. The covers help keep organic material from accumulating in the basins.

City Administrator Alan Winders said the cost for overall upgrades at the water treatment facility was originally estimated at about $750,000. He said the project was reorganized to cost less due to greater-than-expected bidding received. The price tag for the improvements was then reduced to about $600,000.

Winders said about $400,000 of the project will be financed through a loan from Vandalia’s First National Bank branch with the remaining roughly $200,000 paid in-house from water department funds derived from the capital surcharge paid by utility customers.

He said the loan spans a 10-year repayment period at four percent interest.

“We opted for little higher payment schedule to stay away from a 15 to 20 year loan obligation,” Winders said. “The loan doesn’t come to us until we need money to pay bills related to the project. What were trying to do is be as efficient as possible.”

He said grant funding was available, however, would have led to higher water rates.

“Typically, in order to get a grant, your water and sewer rates have to cost a certain amount of dollars,” Winders said.

He said grant funding required Vandalia’s water rates to be no less than 1.5 percent of the city’s median income.

“Our rates are currently much lower than that,” Winders said. “We can finance these improvements in-house and with a loan from First National Bank and keep rates much lower if we didn’t pursue a grant.”