At Tuesday’s regular Altus Municipal Authority and City Council meeting, a report on recent water projects was given by Stephen B. Cesar of SBC Consulting Engineers of Altus.
Cesar reported that the quality of the local drinking water was better than it has ever been before thanks to the efforts of the Altus City Council, city staff, professional consultants, contractors, a forming of the Southwest Action Water Plan and the Water Task Force.
In the past, the water quality concerns were caused by elevated levels of disinfection byproducts known as trihalomethanes THMs, a group of organic chemicals. Organic chemicals are carbon-based compounds such as methane that are produced by natural biological processes in surface water. THMs form when chlorine reacts with organic compounds in water. Chlorine is added at the water treatment plant as a disinfectant and the water throughout the distribution system must have a minimum amount of chlorine to prevent bacterial growth in the water pipes.
Surface waters like Lake Lugert-Altus and the Tom Steed Reservoir generally have elevated levels of organic compounds produced by fish, algae and other aquatic organisms. Groundwater naturally has less organic loading because groundwater typically has no oxygen and cannot support aquatic life.
The Altus well field in Wilbarger County, Texas was constructed in 1964 to blend groundwater with treated surface water to improve water quality. It was operating until 1992, when it was closed due to increasing maintenance costs.
In 2005, the city constructed a Reverse Osmosis Treatment Plant to reduce THM levels by reducing organic loads. Due to a design flaw, the plant was shut down in 2012. Without the well field or the reverse osmosis plant, THM concentrations have been well above the recommended level of 80 parts per billion or PPB. THM levels peaked at 240 ppb during the recent extreme drought. During the past year, THMs have been in the range of 140-170 ppb. Now, for the first time in years, the THMs levels consistently are below 80 ppb.
“I campaigned with two particular goals in mind,” Council member Dewayne Martin said. “My desire was to gain access to sufficient water quantity and quality for Altus, Altus Air Force Base and others who rely upon the City of Altus for municipal water. With support from other council members, mayors, city staff, various consultants, and advisors, these goals have been achieved. With the changes in place which have occurred in the past three years, I see no scenario in which Altus will ever find itself in such dire circumstances again. I offer my sincere gratitude to all who have participated.”
The path to better water hasn’t been easy, or cheap. The city has invested more than $9 million in water system projects in the last 18 months. These projects include well field rehabilitation, water line improvements, and Altus Water Treatment plant improvements.
The well field rehabilitation cost was $790,000. The investment was for seven of the city’s wells in Wilbarger County, Texas. Work included full replacement of electric lines, utility poles and transformers. The wells were cleaned, flushed and disinfected before new pumps and controls were installed, and well houses were set and telemetry controls installed allowing for remote operation. The seven wells began pumping May 4 and will produce more than one million gallons of water a day.
New water mains were priced at $2,300,000 and were procured through a low-interest loan through the Oklahoma Drinking Water State Revolving Fund or DWSRF for water system improvements. About 60 percent of this was used to construct a new 12-inch water main that runs 10 miles south of Altus to convey water to the Town of Olustee and The Creta Water Company. This project was needed to free up the old 18-inch line that connects the Texas well field to the Altus Water Treatment Plant.
The Altus Water Treatment Plant, built in 1975, includes improvements cost $5,942,000 including the rehabilitation of the Reverse Osmosis Treatment Facility. A new pre-treatment system was installed to replace the faulty system to ensure optimum performance of the reverse osmosis pressure vessels. The Reverse Osmosis Plant began operation April 8.
Clean, reliable water is a precious commodity in our community. All the combined efforts will also help maintain the high standard of living in which the people of Altus have come to enjoy.
Reach Mary O. Esparza at 580-482-1221, ext 2077.