Work has started on a $1.6 million project to replace the 45-year-old system at the Saratoga Springs Water Filtration Plant on Excelsior Avenue.
Rebuilding the four huge filters is just one part in the effort to upgrade the water system that serves the 27,000 residents of Saratoga Springs. The city is also exploring a new water source in the Bog Meadow Brook area in its attempt to comply with a state Health Department order to increase the capacity of the water system.
Usually during the dry days of July and August, the city exceeds its rated capacity to provide water. The state Health Department wants to make sure the city has a new backup source.
“It’s a work in progress,” city Public Works Commissioner Anthony “Skip” Scirocco said about rebuilding the filter system. “It should have been done a long time ago. When it’s completed, it will be state of the art.”
The filters use a combination of sand, small gravel and anthracite coal to filter the raw water from Loughberry Lake, the city’s primary water source, and move it into the city distribution system. The last time the filters were rebuilt was in 1968.
City Engineer Tim Wales said when Jersen Construction of Waterford finishes the filter replacement, a new electrical control system will replace the pneumatic controls now in use.
A major improvement in the new system, which was designed by engineering firm Barton and Loguidice of Albany, is an air backwash scouring system to regularly clean the filters. Wales said the new backwash will be more efficient than the current system and will use much less treated water — thousands of gallons less.
Workers from Troy Boiler Works Inc., a subcontractor, were installing the piping for the new air scouring system last week. Jersen Construction is rebuilding the first of the four filters literally from the ground up.
Thomas Kirkpatrick, the city’s chief water plant operator, said the old filters are still functioning but sometimes become plugged at the bottom and have to be backwashed frequently.
Kirkpatrick would like to see all four filters in operation by June. City Engineer Wales said the new system must be 100 percent operational by the start of the thoroughbred racing season in mid July.
A state Health Department administrative order was issued in September after a survey of the water system determined the city violated state Sanitary Code regulations.
“Additional source capacity is needed to meet the maximum day demands of the public water system that serves the city of Saratoga Springs,” the survey said.
Jeffrey Hammond, a spokesman for the state Health Department, said last week that the city is complying with the orders.
As part of that compliance, a test well was dug in the Bog Meadow area; a 72-hour pump run last fall on the well yielded 500 gallons of water per minute without any impact on surrounding private residential wells, Wales said.
The orders also require the city to have a backup power generator installed at the water treatment plant by the end of 2013. The plant has never had a backup.
Kirkpatrick, who has been working at the water plant for 29 years, said the longest the filtration plant has been without power was 24 hours during a violent windstorm in February 2006.
The city has a 5 million gallon water storage tank near Skidmore College, at one of the highest points in the city. This gravity system provided the city with water during the Feb. 17-18, 2006, outage and was still half-filled when the power came back on, Kirkpatrick said.
Kirkpatrick said the city uses a daily average of 4.2 million gallons of water, but the usage peaks in July and August.
The July water usage average in 2012, including water from Loughberry Lake and the city’s Geyser Crest wellfield, was 6.48 million gallons per day, and the August average daily usage was 5.77 million gallons.
The city water system’s capacity, according to state guidelines, is somewhat less than 8 million gallons per day. In July 2012, during a very dry period, there were eight days that the system provided 8 million gallons or more.
During such dry periods, the level of Loughberry Lake, across Route 50 from the water plant, drops and the wells in Geyser Crest also become very low.
The city then starts pumping water from the Bog Meadow Brook into Loughberry Lake for additional capacity, Kirkpatrick said. This surface water is not part of a proposed well system in that area.
A new well system in the Bog Meadow area (off Ingersoll Road near the Wilton-Saratoga Springs border) would give the city an additional source of water capacity in such situations. This is what the state Health Department wants the city to have.
The state order requires that the new well system must be built and connected to the city’s public water system by March 31, 2014.
Asked why the city didn’t just buy water from the Saratoga County Water Authority to address its capacity needs, Kirkpatrick said it’s a matter of cost.
“We sell water to our customers for less ($1.57 per 1,000 gallons) than the city could buy from the county wholesale,” Kirkpatrick said.
Scirocco said Saratoga Springs has some of the lowest-costing water in the region, even after a 3-percent rate increase in 2012. In Clifton Park, residents pay $3.55 per 1,000 gallons of water, and in Albany, resident pay $3.43 per 1,000 gallons, Scirocco said.
During the winter, the city pumps only about 2.4 million gallons of water per day. This capacity can easily be treated with three filters rather than the usual four online in the water plant. Kirkpatrick said the filters will be replaced one at a time, but it is critical to have them all replaced by the summer tourism season.
“I wouldn’t like to go into July with three filters,” Kirkpatrick said.
The plant was built in 1935 and went online in January 1936. The cost of the entire construction project was about $224,500.
“The whole plant is well-built,” Kirkpatrick said.
The 1936 plant replaced an older one on Excelsior Avenue.
Loughberry Lake, a man-made lake, was created in 1870-71. The old water plant used steam-driven pumps by the Holly Manufacturing Co. that could provide a high level of water capacity and pressure for fire protection purposes.
The water filtration replacement project has not been without delays. Workers discovered asbestos on some of the old valves and other parts in the filter system and an asbestos abatement project delayed the filter work by a month.
The delivery of filter parts has been slower than usual because the manufacturer doesn’t keep them in stock during the sluggish economy and has to manufacture them to order, Kirkpatrick said.