by Heather Tomlinson
Although its still undergoing some finishing touches, Somerset’s expanded and upgraded water plant has been serving its customers since the fall.
“I think we’ve been drinking water out of this new plant ... since November,” said Somerset Mayor Eddie Girdler during a dedication ceremony at the plant on Friday. “That’s a long time.”
The new water treatment plant, located at the location of the old plant off Waitsboro Road, is up and operating. All that remains are some minor touches to some of the buildings, such as a new learning center.
The plant, which has been in the works for years after city officials discovered that the old plant was quickly approaching its maximum capacity of 10 million gallons per day, cost around $25 million. Financing came through a $6 million grant, $14 million in low-interest loans from United States Department of Agriculture, and $5 million in city money.
“It’s going to be great for our community, plus it’s going to last the next 25 or 30 years,” said Girdler.
The new facility can treat up to 16 million gallons of water daily, and equipment is available there to further expand to 20 million gallons.
“You can double your capacity from where you are today,” said Kelly Gillespie, of Bell Engineering, a company that has been involved with the water treatment expansions since the original plant was built at the site in 1957. “That does attract industry. There’s no doubt about it.”
Gillespie pointed out that engineers faced a difficult question when the idea of a major upgrade began forming in 2003.
“We faced a dilemma,” said Gillespie. “‘Where do we put the plant?’ ... The expansion had to happen.”
The new plant, replacing the existing facility, utilizes membrane filtration, a relatively new technology that removes bacteria and other microorganisms, particulate material and natural organic material that can impact color, taste and odors to the water.
City officials have said it could be the largest membrane filtration plant in Kentucky and one of less than 10 water plants in the state utilizing such technology.
Without the membrane technology, the Waitsboro site would not have been large enough to accommodate an expansion.
“What it enabled us to do was work on a limited site,” said Gillespie. “Conventional processing wouldn’t have worked. Takes up too much space.”
The water treatment complex consists of three new buildings and renovated existing structures. And within one building a learning center is housed — one that will show interested visitors just how the membrane filtration process works.
A chlorine generator that makes chlorine from salt brine replaced 2,000-pound chlorine cylinders that can be a safety hazard.
The final touches on the new plant should be completed by this fall.
“I think our community is well served by this facility,” said Girdler.
Girdler commended city councilors for moving forward with major renovation projects over the last several years, including the water plant and the new Pitman Creek wastewater treatment plant.
“I remember (with) several of us, one of our main concerns in the next eight, 10, 12 years was infrastructure and being able to improve on what we had,” said Councilor Jim Rutherford during the ceremony. “It took a lot of risk and a lot of pride to come to that conclusion.”
“ ... It was money well spent,” added Rutherford.
Somerset Water Service wholesales water to Science Hill, Ferguson and Eubank as well as Southeastern and Western Pulaski County water districts.
The rural water districts extend into four neighboring counties.
City officials have estimated that Somerset Water Service provides water to 120,000 customers.