Sustainable from the Start

Community involvement and environmental sensitivity drove planning and construction of Saco River Drinking Water Resource Center

Sustainable from the Start

In the new treatment process, clarified water exits plate settlers (JMS) and heads toward mixed-media filters. The upflow settlers provide the same results as a traditional settling basin in a much smaller footprint.

When Maine Water Co. replaced its old Biddeford Water Treatment Plant there was no doubt there would be improvements in sustainability.

The old plant dated back to 1884 and was in the flood plain of the Saco River. It had flooded several times. The new treatment plant made so many improvements that it won an Envision Silver Award from the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure. The facility was named the Saco River Drinking Water Resource Center to reflect its bigger role in the community.

“It incorporates modern-day safety for the team members, but it also creates space to bring different stakeholders and community members in to learn about all the work of providing drinking water and fire protection,” says Michael Cummons, vice president of Maine Water.

The new plant is designed to produce 12 mgd. Average production is about 4 mgd, with a peak demand of 9 mgd. The plant serves some 40,000 people in the cities of Biddeford and Saco, the town of Old Orchard Beach, and part of the town of Scarborough. Maine Water, a private utility company, owns and operates 12 water systems and contracts to operate water systems.

A nod to history

The lobby of the Saco River Drinking Water Resource Center contains several references to the plant it replaces. “We took the large brass compass that sat in the filter gallery of the old plant and relocated it into our lobby, so we can show a piece of where we came from,” Cummons says. “We also have photos that show the old facility and the history behind that.”

The lobby also includes a storyboard that includes an overview of the water treatment process, some history of the site, old photos and pictures of current team members.

“We have an internal communications team who worked with engineering and the operations team to put the storyboard together, and we worked with a local sign company,” Cummons says. “It’s a nice way to show people who we are. We also partnered with some fire departments, brought in some old firefighting equipment, and placed that in the lobby as well, because fire protection is a key component to what we do.”

Community involvement

The plant is designed to accommodate visitors all the way through the process. When Maine Water hosts school or community tours, people can walk through the plant. Cummons says, “The facility allows us to safely walk through each step of the process. We very much had that in mind — educating the community about where drinking water comes from.”

Since it bought the Biddeford-Saco Water Company in 2012, Maine Water has made major investments, including adding a new storage tank and a new booster pump station and replacing several miles of water mains. The investments totaled about $100 million, including about $60 million for the new water plant.

A community advisory committee of city managers, city council members, fire chiefs and other local leaders met several times to discuss the developments in the water system and the rate increases that would be required.

“We worked with the community to get feedback from key stakeholders and leaders and to educate them about what we were planning, specifically the drinking water resource center,” Cummons says. “It’s a generational investment.”

There was a significant impact on water rates, and that meant sharing information about the condition of the treatment facility and the investment needed for a strong healthy water system that the community could rely on for the next 50 to 100 years.

Environmentally sensitive

Mark Morin, P.E., of the consulting firm Hazen and Sawyer, was the design engineer for the project. He notes that rehabilitating the old plant would have cost about the same as a new building and still would have left the water plant at risk of flooding. The new plant was built about 1,500 feet from the old one but considerably higher and outside the flood plain. 

Morin says the criteria for the Envision Silver Award guided many design and construction decisions by Maine Water and the general contractor, MWH Construction. For example, the new plant site was rocky and required significant blasting, but the rock taken out was reused on site. The construction team also took steps to avoid unnecessary underwater excavation when placing the new intake pump.

“To site our raw water pump station, we had some local regulations changed so we could site it closer to the river but a little bit higher and out of the flood plain,” Morin says. “That minimized our excavations down by the river. That was a huge environmental benefit.” They also used trenchless technology to install the new intake pipe.

Room to expand

New equipment includes variable-frequency drives (Square D) on all the pumps. The raw water pumps and filter backwash pumps are from Goulds Water Technology, a Xylem brand. The finished water pumps are from KSB.

The building is also designed with potential for growth. The feed pipes and other buried infrastructure are sized to take capacity up to 18 mgd. The roof and the electrical system are solar-ready.

Maine Water also took steps to protect the watershed of the Saco River, putting 237 acres of wetlands, including a red maple swamp and a brook trout stream, into conservancy. Stormwater from the site is managed so that rainwater slows down and filters into the soil instead of flowing directly into the river. The area around the new building is landscaped with native plants.

Although the new plant uses some space-saving technology such as inclined plate settlers (JMS) that provide better settling in less space than the old settling basins, the overall footprint of the Drinking Water Resource Center is about the same as the old water plant.

That’s partly because a filter backwash recycling process was added to the system, and because there is a lot more space for workers and visitors and more administrative space. Maine Water wants the plant to be accessible both to the community it serves and to others in the industry.

“We like being the water utility in Maine that can host water classes,” Cummons says. “We use the conference room as a training facility. We have given a fair amount of tours and had some class trips and some classes for operators. We are looking to ramp that up going forward.”


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