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Water plant price tag rises

The cost to build a new water treatment plant is going up, but residents won’t see their water bills rise by more than 4%, according to city officials.

The project was approved in the last capital improvement plan budget at a cost of $32 million, but the estimated cost is now up to $36 million.

The city borrowed $14.8 million for the project which will be paid back by fees.

Deputy Public Works Director Scott Fleury said staff is looking at using reserve funds and potentially more borrowing for the remainder of the money.

“We told council we want to maintain the 4% increase,” Fleury said, adding that City Council would have to approve any increase in utility fees.

The cost increase is due to a more refined estimate after 30% of the site design, or the preliminary engineering phase, was completed.

Fleury said he’ll bring more information to City Council in September, including a 90% completed site design.

“There’s a big margin of potential difference in 0% design and 100% design,” Fleury said. “Each level you move forward, your estimates become more refined.”

He said the final cost could go up or down depending on contractor bids.

Fleury said the project was estimated at $23.3 million about a year ago, which included plans for a new 7.5-million-gallon per day water treatment plant built like the current plant, but modernized and with a new 2.6-million-gallon reservoir.

The updated proposal includes a seismically sound plant with an 850,000-gallon disinfection tank for the treatment process instead of a reservoir.

He said the cost increase is due to both the refining of the site design as well as the water treatment process that was decided upon.

The current water treatment plant has a two-step “direct filtration process,” but the new treatment process would be a four-step conventional filtration system that adds additional treatment steps of ozonation and sedimentation, Fleury said.

“It resolves a few issues with algae blooms in the reservoir and the treatment of algae, and we have seasonal taste and odor issues associated with the water,” Fleury said. “This gives us a more resilient process to handle water filtration, as well as future regulatory requirements coming from the state and EPA to treat the algae toxins.”

Fleury noted that last year Salem had such an abundance of toxic algae in its water supply that it had to shut down the city’s water supply for a few days, and the Oregon Health Authority went into an emergency rulemaking session to require all cities to test their drinking water for high amounts of toxins.

He said the state and Environmental Protection Agency are in talks about future regulations regarding toxin levels in drinking water. The new filtration system would be very efficient and should pass strict regulatory measures, he said.

The current 70-year-old plant can filter a maximum of 7.5 million gallons of water a day, but on average filters about 5 to 7 million gallons of water a day during peak summer days, Fleury said.

The current plant is in a location prone to wildfire, floods, landslides and is not seismically safe, he added.

No additional staff would be needed to run the new plant, and the only additional operational costs would come from additional chemicals, but he’s not expecting to see increased costs.

The new plant would have the ability to expand to filter 10 million gallons of water per day in the event of population growth, which he said is not expected to be necessary until the years 2040-2050.

The new treatment plant was approved by City Council in the water master plan for the years 2020-2030.

“It’s important to understand that it’s been through the council process many times on different levels,” Fleury said.

The council during Monday’s study session requested a flowchart be posted on the city website of when the project has come in front of council, and what decisions and changes have been made.

The preliminary engineering phase, conducted by HDR Engineering, Inc., was approved by the council in September 2018 and cost roughly $1 million.

The phase included four onsite workshops with city staff to select a treatment process, develop conceptual site layouts, analyze storage requirements, analyze alternative energy sources such as hydro and solar, develop onsite and offsite piping connections, and develop initial cost estimates.

If the council approves the final contract with HDR, it’s estimated to take about 8 to 10 months to complete the final engineering phase, which includes final plans, specifications and estimates and the formal documents to solicit the construction bids.

Construction is expected to begin in the fall of 2020 and be fully operational by the end of 2022.

Contact Tidings reporter Caitlin Fowlkes at cfowlkes@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4496. Follow her on Twitter @cfowlkes6.