The first drops of water treated at Midlothian's new Water Treatment Plant No. 2 ran through the pipes and into residents' homes and businesses Monday.
Four years and 20 days after the the groundbreaking for phase one of the plant, the city's water treatment technicians and operators have WTP2 online. That isn't good enough for Midlothian's team of professionals though.
“We have approval from the state to operate the plant and treat water, but we're fine tuning it now to get to that level of service Midlothian is known for,” Plant Manager Ben Wilson said. “We always do the best we possibly can above that. We don't just meet the rules, we exceed those rules.”
Wilson said he expects the plant to be running smoothly at its peak performance level by September with a grand opening for the general public in mid to late September or early October.
Those few hundred gallons to leave the plant seem like drops compared to the treated water the Tayman Water Treatment Plant is currently producing. Wilson explained that the plant won't operate at its full capacity until after its processes are adjusted, and he wants to slowly blend in more and more water from the new plant to avoid any sudden change in taste for local residents.
Leading operations and oversight at WTP2 will be Senior Operator Cindy Ford with help from Chief Operator Ray Cason and Water Quality Technician Sandra Binkley.
The Water Treatment Plant No. 2 uses water from the Tarrant Regional Water District drawn from East Texas and sources water from Joe Pool Lake. The Tayman Plant only uses water from Joe Pool Lake, so having a second water source that can be fed to both plants provides a greater level of assurance that Midlothian's water needs can be met.
However, because the operators and technicians are working with a new source of water, their treatment processes have to be tweaked to produce that same level of excellence they have always maintained. Wilson and Binkley reached out to Waxahachie's water treatment personnel to get some pointers on working with East Texas water.
“They've been using the same water from the same pipe for years that we're using now, so there's no reason to reinvent the wheel,” Wilson said.
On Friday, Binkley was in the Water Treatment Plant No. 2's testing lab filtering out biosolids, such as algae, and used a machine to shine light through the sample to test its turbidity.
“Turbidity basically measures how much dirt or particulates are in the water,” Wilson explained. “The lower the number, the greater the quality and clarity of the water.”
Midlothian's Tayman plant produces a 0.1 or less nephelometric turbidity unit (NTU) through its water treatment processes. For years, the Midlothian water treatment staff has won awards from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) and other entities for its quality of water.
The WTP2 uses two new technologies to produce an even greater quality, 0.001 NTU, that is considered the leading technique in water treatment.
The new plant will use a membrane filtration system and chemical processes of ultraviolet light and hydrogen peroxide to not only disinfect, but also remove taste and odor from the water.
Wilson explained the membrane filter's design and function in layman's terms.
“It looks like a bundle of fiber optic strands in a PVC pipe, and it works like a soda straw with millions of holes small enough to capture viruses and particles as the water is forced through the straw,” he said.
Though many water treatment plants use the chemical reaction of hydrogen peroxide exposed to UV light, Midlothian's new plant is the first municipal plant in the state of Texas to be certified by the TCEQ to use the UV system to disinfect its water.
“If there is a break down in our chlorination or if we need more water than we are able to produce with chlorine, then we can use the UV system to disinfect it,” Wilson said. “Most of the time it will just be used to control odor and taste events in the water from algae or other things.”
Wilson was quick to note that none of the cutting edge technology would be worth anything without the operators, technicians and managers that Midlothian employs.
“If it wasn't for Cindy, Sandra and Ray, we wouldn't have a new water treatment plant,” Wilson said. “Their input and knowledge got us to this point, and because of them we'll keep producing the best quality water we can.”
In the same breath, Wilson noted the support he and his staff have received from City Manager Don Hastings and Executive Director of Engineering and Utilities Mike Adams. He also noted that the WTP2 contractor, Garney Construction, and engineering firm, Schrickel, Rollins and Associates, Inc. went above and beyond to make the project a success.
Besides the water treatment equipment and pipework, the facility also houses offices for the staff and other administration as well as a conference/training room where instructors will be able to train Midlothian and other cities' technicians and operators.
Wilson said being able to bring the instructors to their site will save the city money for training costs and make the most important part of the training course, touring the plant, very convenient.
Other features that will save money and improve safety include the plant's chemical building, where the plant will produce its own bleach for the chlorination system and hold bulk tanks of chemicals needed for treatment.