Facing new governmental regulations, Westerville's water treatment plant soon will undergo an $11.2 million overhaul. It will be the first time the plant has been upgraded in 20 years.
The improvements are expected to be underway by the end of the summer to the plant on the west bank of Alum Creek, at 312 W. Main St., between the Westerville Senior Center and the city's Fire Station 111.
"The project is primarily focused on adding an additional treatment process, or step, to the end of the current treatment process," said Westerville Water Utility Manager Dick Lorenz. "The current treatment facility will continue to be used."
The additional treatment step is meant to help the city comply with new regulations from the U.S. EPA, which has lowered the amount of the bacteria cryptosporidium and chemical byproducts allowed in water.
The city spent about four years researching water treatment systems that would make city water compliant with the new regulations before settling on an activated carbon filtration system, which should be familiar to many consumers, Lorenz said.
"Activated carbon is in the same thing that people buy for their homes -- the pitchers," he said. "This carbon does a great job of taking things out of the water."
In fact, the activated carbon will filter a great deal more out of the water without adding smells or tastes, Lorenz said.
"It's a good catch-all treatment process that will take out many, but not all, potential pollutants that will be in the water," Lorenz said. "It may make the water taste or smell a little better now, but that's not the driving force."
Another component of the overhaul will be a change in the way the city chlorinates its water.
Currently, and since public utilities were required to add chlorine to water in the 1920s and 1930s, the city has used chlorine gas, Lorenz said. It's efficient, as the gas is nearly 100 percent chlorine, but it's also potentially hazardous, he said.
The city instead will begin using liquid chlorine, and will add a new system to add liquid chemicals and chlorine to the water, along with storage space for the chemicals.
"That's being done for employee and community safety, because chlorine gas is a potentially dangerous compound if it was to get released," Lorenz said.
While its systems are being upgraded, the water-treatment facility also will see some upgrades to its office and working spaces.
Many of the additions will be basic, including some new office space, women's restrooms and conference space.
"Things have changed over the years. We now have both sexes working here. The water plant (went it was built) back in the '60s was purely male," Lorenz said. "Now we don't have to go over to the fire department every time we want to have a staff meeting."
The building also will become more accessible to those with disabilities, and an operations center will be added, allowing all of the systems and cameras to be monitored from one location, Lorenz said.
Though it's a large-scale project, the improvements at the water-treatment facility should come without any disruptions to water service, Lorenz said.
"Any construction is always a hassle, but we have planned it out ... so there's planned to be no outages or anything the public will notice," Lorenz said.
To accommodate the cost of the improvements, the city has projected modest water-rate increases over the next five years, but Lorenz emphasized that the city will continue to offer the lowest water rates in the area.
"Overall, it will still be a very competitive product. We've got the lowest rates in the area, and that continues even with our increases," Lorenz said.