Springdale's water treatment plant project could increase water bills

Brian C. Rittmeyer
| Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2014, 1:06 a.m.

A roughly $6 million project to replace the filtration system at Springdale's water treatment plant could increase residents' water bills by about 20 percent, according to an engineering firm's report to borough council Tuesday.

The final cost could be less if the borough is successful in getting grants or low-interest loans to pay for the work, council President John Molnar said.

Council is considering two options to improve the plant, with borough staff favoring one using a pellet filtration system described as both innovative and uncommon in the United States.

Council has not yet decided which option to use. Construction is not expected to start until July 2016, with completion about a year later.

The borough's water plant treats about 650,000 gallons of water each day. The water is drawn from two underground wells that tap an aquifer near the Allegheny River.

According to the report by John Mowry with KLH Engineers of Pittsburgh, the plant's water filters are more than 25 years old and have exceeded their design life. They need daily maintenance, which is costly and requires shutting down the plant, requiring more work to replenish water stores depleted during the shutdown.

The filters are so badly deteriorated that if nothing is done the borough may not be able to guarantee reliable water production within five years.

“This project is not a luxury,” Molnar said. “This is a necessity. It has to be done.”

Filtration is needed to remove manganese, a naturally occurring element in groundwater.

Manganese levels in the groundwater are 0.5 parts per million; the federal limit for drinking water is less than 0.05 parts per million.

The plant also softens water, which is not required but the borough has done for more than 80 years. Calcium and magnesium are the most common minerals that make water hard.

Council is considering two options to improve the plant:

• The first option includes construction of new filters and continued use of the existing softeners.

The new filters would be too large for the existing building, requiring construction of a new building. The softeners would be good for another 10 to 15 years.

The cost is estimated at about $6.2 million.

Borough residents now pay $6 per 1,000 gallons, with a minimum quarterly charge of $18 for 3,000 gallons. The projected rate increase would be $1.30 per 1,000 gallons, or at least $3.90, an increase of about 22 percent.

• The second option calls for replacing the filters and softeners, but at a lower cost, about $5.8 million.

The projected rate increase would be $1.23 per 1,000 gallons, or at least $3.69, or 20.5 percent.

With this option, the borough would use a “pellet softening” system.

Joe Gianvito, a project engineer with KLH, said the system is popular in Europe but is uncommon in the United States, used in only a few locations.

Despite its rarity, Gianvito said it is a proven technology. The borough tested the system over nine months and found it works with the borough's water, Mowry said.

The softening system removes some of the manganese, allowing for smaller filters that would fit in the existing building. Its waste product is a lime pellet which could have beneficial uses.

With a new filtration system, the plant would need less frequent maintenance and would not have to stop producing water while that work is being done, Mowry said.

Brian C. Rittmeyer is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4701 or brittmeyer@tribweb.com.

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