Planned work at Westerville's water treatment facility would improve water quality and safety, city officials say.

Planned work at Westerville's water treatment facility would improve water quality and safety, city officials say.

The $11.3-million facility overhaul, which was outlined at a City Council work session Sept. 11, would be financed with a low-interest Ohio EPA loan and paid for through an increase in residents' water bills.

The upgrade to the facility is driven by U.S. EPA regulations that will go into effect in October of next year, Water Division Manager Dick Lorenz said.

To meet those, the city will build an addition to the water treatment plant at 312 W. Main St. The additional space would house 14 large tanks to allow for a granular activated carbon filtration process, similar to what is used in home filtration systems, Lorenz said.

"It's small charcoal basically, and the water will pass through that and it does an excellent job of absorbing chemicals that may be in the water," Lorenz said.

The overhaul also would address recommendations made by the Ohio EPA over the last several years while also updating the facility by improving plumbing and electrical systems and adding a connector between the two existing buildings that would create more administrative space, meeting rooms and a women's bathroom, Lorenz said.

The current water treatment plant was opened in 1969, and an addition nearly doubled its size in 1979, Lorenz said.

"Most of what we have there is vintage, approaching 35, 45 years old, and it's used 24 hours, every day," he said. "When the facility was built, we didn't have computers, we didn't even have electric typewriters. We didn't even have women in the field."

The city planned to begin the improvements this year, with $8 million included in the budget for the overhaul.

The expenses rose as a result of poor soil quality near the plant, requiring a more intense foundation, Lorenz said.

Plans for the water plant expansion are about 90-percent completed, Lorenz said, and once finished, they will have to go to the Ohio EPA for review.

Lorenz said he hopes to bring bids for the project before City Council for approval early next year, with construction to begin shortly after. Construction would take a year and a half to complete, he said.

To fully cover the cost of the increase, the city would need to raise water rates by about $4.25 per month for the average customer.

However, the division's budget balance and the terms of the loan will allow the city to phase in the rate increase, Lorenz said, and the city would look to raise rates by $1.50 per month for the average customer in 2013.

Even if the city increased rates by $4.25 per month, it still would offer the lowest water rates in central Ohio, Lorenz said.

City Council Chairman Mike Heyeck said he understands the need for the overhaul, and said he applauds the city for keeping water rates low.

"We're not just doing this (on our own). We have to do this because of EPA rules and regulations. An 'unfunded mandate' is the usual expression for something like this, but it will improve water quality," Heyeck said.

"I appreciate the fact that you've kept costs down to the point where we are the lowest of the low in a wide area."