Vast improvements are forthcoming to Coweta’s drinking water supply.
In May, bidding on phase two of the city’s new, multi-million dollar water treatment facility will begin, bringing a project that launched in the talking stages seven years ago closer to fruition.
The Department of Environmental Quality has given it’s long-awaited nod of approval to Coweta’s plans.
Coweta is one of dozens of Oklahoma municipalities being forced to construct a new water treatment facility to meet changes in environmental regulations.
There have been disagreements on the project between DEQ and the city for several years, but those days are finally in the past and the project now moves forward with a permit to proceed in hand.
“Our proposed treatment process is a conventional plant, meaning it is a standard water treatment facility. But that was not the issue,” Whitlock explained. “The issue was the addition of treatment components above and beyond what is required. This will result in a higher quality water standard, but it also resulted in a more detailed evaluation by DEQ.”
“We (city) did not want to build a treatment facility that would just satisfy current water quality standards, and two years down the road those standards change and require either additional components or a new treatment process altogether. We wanted to go above and beyond,” he noted. “As a community with limited funds, these projects are very costly, and any changes in those systems require additional funding.”
“They wanted us to do a conventional plant only, but we are looking beyond a band aid fix,” Whitlock added.
When completed, Coweta’s new state-of-the-art conventional water plant will have state-of-the-art additional components – to the extreme of being able to provide water quality that exceeds current and anticipated future standards.
“The water you are drinking now is no different than what you were drinking yesteryear. What is different are the standards that have been placed on that water,” Whitlock said. “No one is against clean water. What we have to be cognizant of is, at what cost?”
“Water requirements change, which leads to higher treatment costs and chemical costs. In the end, we think this will be a facility that will hopefully last as long as the last facility has,” he added.
Many of the core buildings and treatment processes were designed in the late 1960s, with updates made in the 1980s.
The bidding process for this phase includes the actual water treatment process itself. Phase 1 of the project, which took approximately one year to complete, included new storage tanks, new disinfection systems, building construction and dirt work for phase 2.
This phase will include the introduction an ultraviolet system as a secondary treatment process.
“You have chlorine for clean water, but we’ll add a UV disinfection as well, and a proprietary system to control taste and odor,” Whitlock explained. “This is all above and beyond what DEQ requires. It is a much higher quality standard, and it was more difficult to get it through.”
“This will give us the ability to control taste and odor, and those are not standards that are regulated at this time,” he added.
When completed, the new water plant will be able to handle up to four million gallons of water per day – up from 1.5 million in the current facility.
The road getting to this stage of the water plant project has been a long one with many bumps along the way.
“The city council has pushed for this as hard as anyone has, and it’s just a matter of pushing against an organization that has all the cards and the ability to control the approval process,” Whitlock explained. “We wanted to start on this project much sooner, but DEQ has taken a tremendous amount of time to review this process which delayed our ability to start construction.”
Among those pushing on the city’s behalf was Vice Mayor Billy Embrey.
“The council from the very start said we are going to build a plant that would put us into the future, instead of having to build a plant that would have to be modified a year down the road after we pump the water. It’s as simple as that,” Embrey explained. “You spend millions to build something. Let’s build a plant that’s ahead of the system.”
City leaders met with DEQ officials and state legislators on multiple occasions to move the process along, however final plan approval was not granted until the end of March. Whitlock announced DEQ’s long-awaited project approval at the April 2 city council meeting.
“The fight is finally over!” Embrey exclaimed. “I have been so deeply involved in this for the past three years –constant meetings with DEQ and people at the Capitol trying to get this thing to the next step to finally start construction. To finally get a permit to say we can proceed is a big relief!
“We can build a water plant that the people in this city can know they are getting water they can drink,” the vice-mayor continued. “You’ve always been able to drink it, but in the hot summer when you have river turnover and the water comes in brown, it’s scary – especially if you have children.”
“Our fight has been to provide water people can feel comfortable with – that they are getting real water,” Embrey added. “Water and sewer are things people don’t know anything about unless they don’t work. This (new plant) is what we have to do to stay ahead.”
“There are things that need to be done to get us back in front and infrastructure is one,” he concluded. “The council has pushed that for the last four years. It’s a big relief to know we have a permit and can proceed. We are headed in the right direction.”