The future of Waxahachie’s growth and development is not only built on a strong economic base but is also built in gallons. Providing for the future needs of residents and businesses is the new Bob Sokoll Surface Water Treatment Plant, located off of U.S Highway 77 north of Butcher Road.

Construction on the new water plant began in 2007 and is now nearing the finish line. Final adjustments are being made to the plant’s production capabilities and some cosmetic work is being finished. The plant was built in partnership with the city of Waxahachie and Rockett Special Utility District. 

“If the economy had stayed in the growth pattern, the plant probably would have been online before now. Within the next 10 years we are looking to expand all of that. The downturn took the growth so we have a few years before we have to expand. At the present time the plant is up and operational but it has not been finally accepted by the TCEQ,” Waxahachie Director of Utilities David Bailey said.

“What that means is that the contractor has some final work that he needs to complete, minor things like where this pipe has to be painted or adjusted. There have been no really major setbacks. It is just taking a little bit longer to get the plant to final acceptance than what we thought.”

The plant was designed to come online to treat 20 million gallons per day. Testing on the plant equipment started in August 2009.

New technology for treating water is the central feature of the plant. The main treatment facility will have four different membrane cells that contain 10,000 fibers each. The cells will serve as a vacuum, sucking  water through the fibers and filtering out waterborne parasites like cryptosporidium.

“These fibers will only let particles in that are 0.1 microns in size. Some of the parasites that can be found in water can range from 12 to 17 microns in size,” Bailey said. “With this system, they will be more easily filtered out and will not be able to get in. This is what we call an absolute filtration or absolute barrier.”

Another feature of the plant is onsite chlorine generation. Liquid chlorine is generated for water disinfection through a process of using regular salt and an electric arc.

“With the size of plant that we have here, we would have to bring in 16 tons of chlorine in containers on trucks and then store that on site. We didn’t want to do this because a residential area is located nearby,” he said. “It takes a little more time to generate the chlorine that is needed, but it is a lot safer.”

Another of the plant’s features will be the use of UV light and peroxide to remove odor and improve taste quality. Raw water received from lake reservoirs has microbes in it that can cause taste and odor issues. Traditional methods used to treat  taste and odor issues, such as granular activated carbons, will remove most – but not all – of the microbes.

“We know that this type of microbial outbreak is bound to happen in the future so we put this system in place to prevent this,” Bailey said, noting, however, “Water that is treated with granular activated carbons that has taste and odor issues is still safe to drink.”

The construction cost of the plant was $42.7 million. Bonds were issued through the city of Waxahachie and Rockett pays its debt service to the city and then the city makes the full bond payment.

“We have a very optimistic look that growth is going to come back shortly but I don’t think it will be as rapid as it was before it took the downfall,” Bailey said.

“As the growth continues so will the capacity of this plant and we will begin to treat more and more water out of this plant. I think that Waxahachie and Rockett have infrastructure in place to support the growth in the future.”

Bailey said that as demand for water increases the capacity of treated water can be increased through a process called an uprating without requiring new construction. The first uprating could allow the plant to produce up to 25 million gallons per day and would involve hiring an engineering firm to do a study that would be sent to Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

Room to expand

In the future, capacity of the plant can be increased to 32 million gallons per day by the insulation of more membrane racks, modules and a chemical tank at a cost of $300,000 to $500,000.

The final upgrade on the plant in the future can increase the capacity to treat water to 40 million gallons per day at a cost of $35 million. This upgrade would be achieved by adding additional membranes, steel, piping and a flocs basin.

The need for water just did not spring up over night. It has been a goal of the city of Waxahachie for many years to secure  water needs for the future. Leading the charge with forward thinking was former Waxahachie city manager Bob Sokoll.

“One of my pet projects has always been in water, future water. It kind of goes back to when I moved here in 1982 and that is when I became city manager. Rex Odom was then chairman of the Ellis County Water Control and Improvement District and one of the first things that he told me was ‘one of your jobs needs to be finding more water for the city. Water is the future and if you don’t have water you can’t grow,’ ” Sokoll said.

“All that time starting back to 1983, 1984 and 1985 we started looking for additional sources of water. We had visited with the city of Dallas, Tarrant Regional Water District and with anybody else trying to get a commitment. We didn’t need one then but we knew that we needed to have one in the future. We were striking out and could not get any long term commitments from anybody.”

Sokoll said one of the first steps the city took in providing more treated water to residents was to increase the water capacity at the existing water plant on Howard Road. During this time the city also secured water rights from Lake Bardwell. When the Superconducting Super Collider project came along in 1987, the Tarrant Regional Water District committed future water for the county. The city bought seven million gallons worth of water rights from the county from the settlement deal when the collider project was ended.

“Now along comes this period of growth where we were booming up a storm about six or seven years ago. At that point we knew we had to prepare ourselves for additional treatment. Our plan back then was to enlarge the existing water treatment plant to handle all of the future water demand. But then we knew it was going to have to be increased a whole lot more or we were going to have problems meeting our demand,” Sokoll said.

“We had a lot of discussion of what we were going to do and then along came Rockett Special Utility District, who said, ‘Why don’t we do a joint venture?’ and we came to the conclusion that we would build a joint plant. So we worked out a deal that this plant would be built on a 50/50 basis. We paid for half, they paid for half and a contract was entered into. The maintenance and operation costs would be shared and based on the amount of water each of the entities would use.”

Sokoll said both groups got a verbal commitment from Tarrant Regional Water District that more water would be available in the future for treatment to meet the needs of the area. When the city agreed to build the new treatment plant it had just finished the expansion of the Howard Road Water plant.

“The growth  slowed down for Waxahachie, Rockett and the county. With it all said and done you might have wanted to wait five or six years. If you go back in time and look at the engineering studies, we had said that we were going to need water by the summer of 2009. It might have been better if we could have looked into the future to have seen that. But what would have happened five or six years ago if we said, ‘Let’s wait’ and then we get to the summer of 2009 and had all this growth happened, we could not have met the water demand,” Sokoll said.

“It would been a far greater problem not to have us provide water to the citizens as opposed to being ahead of the curve. With the water commitments that we have,  the plants that are in place and with the verbal commitment from Tarrant Regional that we can get additional water, the water is going to be there for the future. I’m not sure how many cities in Texas can say ‘we have our future water problem solved.’ The growth is going to come, it is just not going to come as fast as we thought it would.”

Contact Andrew at andrew.branca@wninews. com or 469-517-1458.