Surface water treatment plant remains vital resource during drought | Reserved for subscribers

Victoria’s vast surface water treatment plant provides water from local taps even though this summer’s drought persists.

The city currently pumps water from the Guadalupe River into eight large storage ponds known as off-canal reservoirs. The water passes through a raw pumping station before ending up at the surface water treatment plant. Water from the Guadalupe River is siphoned from reservoirs and treated at the plant before reaching residents’ faucets.

If the city moves to Phase III of its drought contingency plan, it will reduce its reliance on Guadalupe by activating several groundwater wells stationed in Victoria.

To produce water suitable for use in homes and businesses, the plant performs five processes: coagulation, flocculation, sedimentation, filtration and disinfection. The water is mixed with treatment chemicals to be cleaned, filtered and disinfected.

In one of the six filters, the water is rapidly mixed with several electrically charged chemicals. Chemicals sent through the mixing stage clump together to form a attachment of particles called flocs.

Flocculation is the second necessary step in water treatment. The flocs clump together to form even larger particles, which means they will become heavier and sink to the bottom as if they were a ship’s anchor, said public works director Ken Gill.

Next comes the sedimentation phase, during which the floc particles float in a long reservoir called a sedimentation basin. As it advances through the basin, the flocs settle to the bottom.

After progressing through the sedimentation pond, Victoria’s water source is still not quite ready for public use. Contaminants such as germs such as Giardia and Cryptosporidium must be removed by a filtration device made up of sand and charcoal.

“The filter (from the treatment plant) works like a Brita filter you might have at home,” Gill said. “It eliminates a lot of bad smells.”

Filtration further improves water clarity, known scientifically as turbidity. Plant personnel can test for turbidity and specific chemicals by taking tap water samples inside an on-site laboratory.

Every morning, plant operators have to clean the filters because dust particles and insects tend to settle on the surface. Small nets are stored nearby so that a factory worker can remove tiny creatures that get stuck in the filter pool.

To be perfectly clean, the water must be disinfected. The main disinfectant at the Victoria plant, chloramine, is a combination of chlorine and ammonia gas. Plant workers regularly measure the amount of disinfectant in a water sample. Water that is completely free of harmful pathogens may appear clean, but may be considered unhealthy if too much sanitizer is in the final product.

Before the treated water supply flows through Victoria’s pipelines, it must pass through a pumping station before going to one of the city’s five water towers. Gravity pulls water from towers into city pipes.

Approximately 9,000 gallons of water flow through the treatment plant every minute. The plant treats approximately 13 million gallons of water each day.

Any changes to the amount of water the city can pump are determined by water permits established by the Watermasters of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

“You can’t just pump water from the river without a permit,” Gill said. “When the river drops to low flow, we have to use new permits, which limits the amount of water we can pump.”

Without precipitation north of us, tighter water restrictions could come

“Right now we’re hoping for more rain to replenish the river upstream,” Gill said.

Leo Bertucci is a member of the Report for America body that covers energy and the environment for the Victoria Advocate.

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