Over the last several months, 15 tonnes of organic material has been removed from Saint John’s drinking water.
That’s one of the main improvements made by the new Loch Lomond Drinking Water Facility that was officially unveiled Monday. But most importantly, the city hopes the facility will put an end to boil water orders in Saint John.
“There are three massive storage tanks that allow us to store water, and that will virtually eliminate boil water orders,” said Saint John Mayor Don Darling.
“There may be some isolated boil water orders with an isolated pipe, but largely, this investment that’s been made in this water treatment plant and the bulk storage of water will virtually eliminate the need for boil water orders.”
According to Brent McGovern, commissioner of Saint John Water, the idea for the project was first hatched almost 20 years ago when the city completed its water strategy.
Now, the city exceeds national drinking water standards.
“There was a vision that, yes, we can bring an end to the ongoing boil water orders for the city of Saint John and bring safe, clean drinking water to all the citizens of Saint John,” said McGovern.
The plant is the largest municipal project in the history of the province and has the capacity to store 33 million litres of water and process 75 million litres of drinking water a day.
Plant manager Peter Larsen says the main difference with the new plant — other than its improved capacity and storage capabilities — lies in the complete removal of organic solids from the water.
“In the past, the City of Saint John, as I understand it, had a surface water treatment where they screened the material out of the water and they would add some disinfection and protection for the citizens, and that would carry on into the distribution network,” Larsen said.
“The previous water supply is the same existing surface water body, but now, we’ve removed all of the solids, the contaminants that used to be harboured in that water. Even though they were disinfected and safe for the community, we are now removing that to have better clarity and disinfection.”
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The multi-step process begins at Latimore Lake, which acts as the reservoir for the city. Water from the lake is fed to the facility, where it is mixed and treated with a coagulant that causes the solid materials to group together. Then, the water is treated with polymers that act as a sort of magnet for the solids, causing them to clump further into particles called flocs.
The water is then treated by dissolved air flotation, in which supersaturated water and air are pumped into the tanks, forcing the flocs to the surface, where they are slowly skimmed from the top of the water. The water is then filtered to remove any remaining solids, treated with chlorine and sent off to the pumping station to be distributed to the network or to the three massive storage drums.
According to McGovern, the removal of solid material improves the health of the entire water system.
“The fact that we’re taking out a tonne and a half of organics that would actually make its way through our system helps us deliver safe, clean drinking water to the customer’s tap,” he said.
“Before, as you can appreciate, we’d have those organic matter settle out in pipes. Then, when there’s a large fire or some sort of large water demand, people would get dirty water coming through their taps because it would bring that back into suspension.”
McGovern says the city attempts to flush pipes using fire hydrants at various points across the city and that he has already noticed a decrease in the amount of solid material being purged. McGovern adds that the amount of solid material should continue to decline in the future as the new plant is used.
Despite the hefty investment, the plant will not serve all of the city. There are still 5,600 customers on the west side that will remain on the South Bay Well system that was implemented in 2018, causing widespread complaints about water quality and service interruptions.
Darling says the city is working through the issues and has no plans to move on from the current system on the west side.
“The water being delivered on the west side is through our well system, the South Bay Well system, and again, it meets the same standards that are needing to be met on the east side so the system that’s in place now is the plan,” he said.