After many months of engineering and construction work, the city of White Salmon's $2 million water filtration plant project -- located on Buck Creek north of Northwestern Lake -- is virtually ready to be switched on.
Mayor David Poucher said he is hopeful the plant will be on line in February. Ironically, one of the few remaining problems the city faces before the plant goes into full operation is that it has to prove the filtration plant is making the water source more pure -- but because Buck Creek water is already so clean, it's difficult to show an improvement.
"It's kind of a catch-22," Poucher said. "We have to show the state that bacteria is actually being filtered out by the sand filter. If we had dirty water -- if it was the White Salmon River, which is considerably dirtier than Buck Creek -- it wouldn't be an issue. But when the water runs so clear and so clean, it meets state and federal standards even without filtering. We've had a heck of a time trying to get the bacteria level to come up. We need to have an event to prove the system works. At that point, the state Department of Ecology will permit us."
Poucher said the Department of Health and Department of Ecology are working with the city, and he doesn't anticipate any significant setbacks.
"They are monitoring the organic layer to make sure it's ready to go," Poucher explained. "Andy Cervantes, the regional engineer for the Department of Health, has been very good to work with. It's just a matter of time to get the organic layer built up so we can demonstrate that the sand filter is working. We have to show, when we get a `dirty' event, that the organic layer is working to remove bacteria."
"It's like everything -- you always expect a few snags," added White Salmon Public Works Director Mike Wellman.
According to Poucher, the plant itself is completed, with contractors now finishing up work on electrical and computer systems.
"The construction itself is done. The plant and the reservoirs are finished, and the pipeline is in. We still need to put a fence up, and security cameras," Poucher said.
Wellman said the Buck Creek filtration plant is expected to provide about 1,000 gallons of water per minute.
"I think we'll be able to do that easily," Wellman said. "With this plant, there will be enough water for our usage for many, many years."
Wellman pointed out that 75 percent to 80 percent of the water that will be used by White Salmon water customers will come out of Buck Creek; the rest will come from the city's two wells. That will provide a valuable backup supply in the event of any emergency.
"We can use either source -- wells or Buck Creek," Wellman said.
Despite the delay in proving the organic layer is doing what it is supposed to do, Poucher said the project remains on track.
"We're on schedule, or a little bit ahead. Everything is built and done," Poucher said. "Our costs have come in under budget and we've done a lot more than we ever thought we could when we first awarded the contract last spring."
In addition to the filtration plant itself, the city has built three 100,000 gallons water reservoirs and replaced about 1,400 feet of water pipeline. The new PVC pipe replaced tar-wrapped steel pipe that had been placed in the ground in the 1950s.
Tapani Underground Inc. was the primary contractor on the project, which broke ground in June 2009.