JACKSONVILLE — City officials will hold a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Thursday to officially mark the opening of Jacksonville’s new $35 million water treatment plant, a 9 million-gallon-per-day facility located uphill from the 100-year-old, flood-prone water plant on the city’s southeast side.
Residents may not realize it, but they’ve been supplied by the new plant for three months now.
“We turned on the new facility in February and haven’t looked back a single day,” said Jamie Headen, the vice-president of Benton & Associates, the project design firm. “It’s really a nice blend of tried-and-true technology combined with new features, controls and redundancies that all goes toward consistency and producing a good quality of water.”
Headen said the new facility is operating at about 3 million gallons a day and it will go to between 4 million and 5 million gallons per day during the summer. But he said it’s designed for a 9 million-gallon-per-day capacity and there are built-in features that allow it to be upgraded at minimal cost down the road should that be needed.
“With a water supply there are no weekends or holidays, water has to be in the system every single day,” Headen said. “The water quality also has to be consistent, so producing that quality and having that redundancy in terms of equipment so there is no interruption of service, or at least minimizing the risk, is one of the top priorities.”
Headen said the water treatment process at the new plant begins with water being pumped from the city’s Illinois River wells or nearby Lake Mauvaisterre to a common chemical mixing chamber at the new plant. A clarification process occurs to remove turbidity, dirt and solids, then the water is passed through filters to remove smaller particulates. Chlorine, fluoride and other chemicals are added to make the finished water. The water is stored in the clear well, and from there is pumped into the distribution system, Headen said.
The demolition of the old water treatment plant will begin in a few weeks and is part of the total project cost, Headen said.
It was having too much water that led the city of Jacksonville to undertake the new water treatment plant project. A June 2011 storm dumped more than 10 inches of rain in one day on the city, inundating the old treatment plant with more than five feet of standing water. It required 10 days of cleanup and $700,000 in repairs before the century-old facility could resume producing potable water that met EPA standards, according to Utilities Superintendent Jack Cosner.
The 2011 flood and a similar one in 1976 that shut down the plant for three days were enough to convince city leaders of the need for a new water treatment plant, Cosner said.
Groundbreaking for the new water treatment plant was held in November 2015. Williams Brothers Construction Company of Peoria was the general contractor. The project was funded through low-interest loans available from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency and federal disaster grants. Jacksonville raised its water rates shortly after construction began to help pay off the 20-year loans, according to Jacksonville Mayor Andy Ezard.
“We take it seriously when we raise rates. We don’t like to, but I think folks understood why we had to increase a little more than usual,” Ezard said. “So now the rates should be relatively flat with minimal raises in the years to come.”
The new plant was designed to have more water capacity than city residents require because Jacksonville has its eye on future development, Ezard said.
“We are constantly trying to lure industry to our region, and one of the first things industry looks at is water quality and capacity,” Ezard said. “So they can check the box on that when looking at our area.”
“A lot of people played into this, we all worked together, we all had the same vision, and it’s nice to see this large of a project get done without many roadblocks,” Ezard said. “The 2011 flood brought things forward. We have really leaned on each other and learned a lot of things these last three years. Seeing it come to fruition is certainly a feather in all of our caps.”