Monday, February 13, 2006

$27 Million Water Plant Upgrade

$27 Million Water Plant Upgrade
By Barry Eberling

A renovated Waterman treatment plant will be able to treat 30 million gallons of water daily, doubling current capacity. (Judith Sagami/Daily Republic)

FAIRFIELD - The Waterman Water Treatment Plant just passed its 30th birthday and is ready for far more than a face lift.

No little nip-and-tuck job here. Fairfield is spending an estimated $27 million to change the plant's face altogether. Work under way on the operations building is only the start - the city wants a state-of-the-art plant that treats more water.

"The project has been planned for many years and we're going to do a first-class job of it," Assistant Public Works Director for Water Rick Wood said.

Residents won't see their water bills rise to pay for the improvements, Wood said. The existing fees will provide the money. Fairfield looks at needs for the upcoming 10 years when setting rates, he said.

The Waterman plant is located in northwest Fairfield, in hills behind a subdivision. It is named after Capt. Robert Waterman, who founded Fairfield about 150 years ago. This compound with buildings, tanks, basins and pipes is about a quarter-mile away from the house where Waterman once lived.

Lake Berryessa reservoir water arrives at the plant after journeying some 25 miles in a concrete canal. The plant makes the water fit to drink by removing impurities.

One goal of the renovation project is to provide Fairfield with more drinking water. The Waterman plant can, under ideal conditions, treat up to 22 million gallons daily, but the limit is often closer to 15 million gallons, Wood said. Meanwhile, Fairfield keeps growing.

"We're looking at the convergence of demand and our ability to treat water," Wood said. "It's getting close."

It's getting close enough that Wood wants to do these renovations soon. He would be nervous about waiting more than another year to get started, Wood said. He doesn't want to tell people to conserve water - a worthy goal in itself - simply because the city didn't build the needed facilities, he said.

A renovated Waterman treatment plant will be able to treat 30 million gallons daily, virtually doubling the normal day-to-day capacity. The city's other water plant, the North Bay plant near Travis Air Force Base, provides about 26.7 million gallons daily for Fairfield.

Changes will also be made in the way the Waterman plant cleans up the water. State-of-the-art technology in 1975 is behind the times in 2005. Even the upgrades made to the plant since then haven't kept pace.

The water that comes from Lake Berryessa reservoir contains sediments. The Waterman plant gets rid of them by adding chemicals and letting the sediments coalesce into larger particles and slowly settle out. The sediments go to a sludge pond and eventually get hauled off to the dump.

But the new technology is something Wood calls "sticky sand." This mixture of sand and a polymer causes sediments to stick to it. Then the "sticky sand" and sediments sink like a rock.

All of this can be done in a smaller basin. This space-saving effort will allow the plant to remove sediment before it treats the water with bacteria-killing ozone, rather than after. No longer will the plant waste ozone and energy treating sediments that later settle out.

The old way worked fine in the 20th century. It just isn't the optimal method for the 21st.

Another change is simply replacing parts. The various pipes and other parts at the Waterman plant aren't necessarily obsolete. They're just old.

City Council members at their Sept. 20, 2005 meeting praised the planned renovations.

"You certainly are meeting the needs of a growing population," Mayor Harry Price - then the vice mayor - told Wood.

City Councilwoman Marylin Farley worked for Fairfield in 1975. She attended the dedication of Waterman treatment plant. She remembers the plant being praised then as state-of-the-art, a claim that can no longer be made.

"It's prudent to be doing the remodeling," she said. "It's going to put us ahead of the game again."

Renovations could go on at the Waterman plant until 2008. Amid the construction and reconfigurations, it will keep providing water to Fairfield.

"That's one of the big challenges with that project - we have to keep that plant operating the entire time," Wood said.

Reach Barry Eberling at 425-4646 Ext. 232 or at

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