Wichita’s only water treatment plant is over 80 years old and is on the brink of a breakdown. The problem is that the whole plant would have to be shut down to repair any one area.
This would leave half a million people without water, including major hospitals. Nobody wants that to happen.
There are plans to build a new water treatment plant, but even with funding, which has not yet been secured, it will be at least another five years before its up and running.
The Wichita Eagle reports that Alan King, Wichita’s director of public works and utilities, said the water system was already in trouble when he took the job in 2011.
He said it surprised him that a city Wichita’s size had a single water treatment plant. That means if it stops working, so does the entire system.
“A single point of failure’s not good,” King said. “But if you have some redundancy, and if you have it in good enough condition, then it’s okay.
“Well, this is neither. There’s no redundancy, and it’s in poor condition.”
While waiting for the promised new plant, workers at the existing one have employed various methods for keeping it running.
The system had a couple of near-failures over the last decade, particularly when a major pipeline corroded. But the team have managed to keep it going, sometimes with nothing more than a couple of rolls of duct tape at their disposal.
However, the situation has been deemed critical and needs to be resolved as soon as possible.
Deferred maintenance that has piled up over the years has also contributed significantly to the problem. When Wichita’s water utility was assessed, findings show that 100% of raw water pipes more than 20 feet in length were in very poor condition, and 99% of the existing water plant’s assets received a poor or very poor condition rating.
A poor condition meant that 20-40% of the parts needed to be fixed or replaced, and a very poor rating means that more than 50% of the asset needs to be fixed or replace.
The good news is that Wichita’s is currently building a new water treatment facility and upgrading its sewage treatment plant that will see completion by 2027.
According to The Wichita Eagle, although some controversy surrounds the selection of contractors for the project, the construction of a new plant located at another site is crucial to replace the 80-year old one that can fail at any time.
Loans from the EPA allowed these upgrades and construction to push through with additional loans to fund the Biological Nutrient Removal project, which needed to reduce sewage stench permeating from the existing plants and help clean up the Arkansas River where the city dumps its treated wastewater.
The sewage plant also plans to cut down harmful chemicals – nitrogen and phosphorous that it discharges on rivers by 2027 as these can cause massive blue-green algae blooms.
“The blooms can also kill a large number of fish and other aquatic creatures and produce toxins and bacterial growth that can make people sick and kill pets”, according to the EPA.
According to the Wichita Eagle article, Wichita’s water treatment problem, particularly the need to build a new plant, was identified in 1993.
After almost three decades, the problem still exists. It begs the question that should the city employed infrastructure asset management many years ago, could it have avoided its precarious situation right now?