Today, the sounds of heavy equipment and power tools reverberate off two huge steel water tanks as a state-of-the-art water treatment system goes into a new building.
“This will be the largest ultraviolet facility in Alaska,” said Harry Heiberg, supervisor of the Kodiak city water and wastewater system, during a Wednesday tour of the facility.
Kodiak’s city water is not filtered. There’s little industrial pollution on Kodiak Island, and the city’s 70-plus inches of rain per year are more than enough to fill the city’s reservoir and meet a huge demand.
Kodiak’s fish processing plants and homes demand the second-largest water system in Alaska, behind only Anchorage. Fairbanks, with a metropolitan area more than 10 times the size of Kodiak’s, uses less water.
For years Kodiak has used chlorine to sterilize its water, but in 2006 the Environmental Protection Agency mandated that cities without filtered drinking water have two different types of water sterilization. Three years of study followed, and the city chose to build an ultraviolet treatment plant at a cost of about $9 million.
“(It) was the most economical option for us,” said city public works manager Mark Kozak. A filtration system would have cost $25 million to $30 million.
Construction began at the site on Pillar Mountain Road in January, and things are moving along quickly, Kozak said. The original contract called for the project to be finished by September 2012. It’s now scheduled to be finished no later than May. The ultraviolet sterilization should be operating even sooner — this winter, potentially.
“The original contract time was generous,” Kozak said. “If we couldn’t get it done this (construction) season, we needed to give them time next season.”
The ultraviolet light produced by a pair of “reactors,” each with a capacity of 1,000 gallons of water per minute, sterilizes bacteria, preventing them from reproducing.
It’s not a new process. Seattle has used UV sterilization for years, and New York City is building the world’s largest such facility. Ketchikan had Alaska’s first ultraviolet facility, and Kodiak will be the state’s second.
Water from the city reservoir will flow through the UV system into the chlorination system, and then into the city’s two enormous storage tanks.
The new building going up on Pillar Mountain contains the UV system and a replacement for the city’s valve building, which is decades old.
“We’re adding one building and removing one building,” Kozak said.
The new building will have “all the same functions, plus the UV treatment,” said project manager Darin Martin.
Shining bright ultraviolet light 24 hours per day will require lots of energy, and that means higher costs than the city’s chlorine sterilization. The Kodiak City Council has already approved rate increases to fund the estimated $200,000 per year cost.
That price includes money to repay loans needed to construct the new system.
“This was one of those unfunded federal mandates,” Kozak said, “but we did get some funding.”
In fact, 92 percent of the facility was paid for with grants.
“We were real fortunate,” Kozak said. “We were real successful in getting the grant. That helped us out a lot.”
Between those federal dollars and a project that’s ahead of schedule, the project won’t leave a bad taste in anyone’s mouth.
“There shouldn’t be any difference in the taste of the water at all,” Heiberg said.
Contact Mirror editor James Brooks at email@example.com.