Highland Park water plant upgrades pending
Water plant operator Walt Willing explains the water testing process during a citizens' tour Nov. 14. | Brian O'Mahoney~for Sun-Times Media
HIGHLAND PARK — In late 2011, a newly seated city council slammed the brakes on plans to retrofit Highland Park’s water treatment plant after bids for on-site construction came in at $23 million — about 33 percent over budget.
But interest in the upgrades hasn’t waned during more than a decade of discussion, study, trials and false starts.
A sizable capital outlay to retrofit the facility around a state-of-the-art membrane filtration system has been written into the city’s tentative 2013 budget. The membrane filtration system would eliminate the need for pretreatment chemicals and increase the plant’s capacity by 20 to 30 percent. The improvements would be financed with bonds.
“This project has been on the drawing board for 12 years in various stages,” said Don Jensen, plant superintendent, noting the issues to be resolved have included financing and permitting from the Environmental Protection Agency. The city conducted a pilot of the membrane system with Siemens, the manufacturer, and the firm has changed its designs.
“There is a lot that goes into it, including politics,” said Jensen, noting the city’s elected officials need to understand the benefits and costs of the project and be comfortable with their decision.
The plant pumps up to 21 million gallons of water a day for distribution to about 60,000 customers in Highland Park and nearby communities. The water is drawn from Lake Michigan through an intake pipe about one mile offshore, at a depth of 30 feet.
The current filtration system relies on seven, successively finer layers of gravel, coal and sand to remove particulates. The filtration method is fundamentally the same as when the plant was originally built in 1929.
Water is treated with five chemicals: Chlorine, the primary disinfectant; ferric sulfate, a coagulant that causes dirt particles to clump together; polymer, another coagulant; phosphate, a corrosion inhibitor that reduces risk associated with lead service lines, and fluoride, which is added to prevent tooth decay. Occasionally, a powdered carbon is used to absorb algal tastes from the lake water.
Ramesh Kanapareddy, director of public works for the city of Highland Park, said the project will increase the plant’s capacity but more importantly, prepare the city for tougher water quality regulations that are likely to come from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency in the future. If the city council approves the financing, the project would take about two years. Construction bids were scheduled to be opened Nov. 16.
“We are very hopeful and very optimistic, but also a little scared to death, because for me, it is going to be a major challenge,” said Jensen.
Throughout the construction, the city will need to distribute safe-to-drink water to its 60,000 customers in Highland Park, Deerfield, Bannockburn, Lincolnshire, Fort Sheridan, Highwood and the Glenbrook Sanitary District.
“Think about remodeling your house with all new roof and walls and plumbing and electrical,” Jensen told some citizens during a tour of the water plant Nov. 14. “That is what we are going to do here,” said the water superintendent.