By Tammy Leytham
The city of Gautier is in the middle of constructing the state’s only ion exchange filtration plant and is receiving accolades for not only the project, but the way it has been funded.
Ion exchange is a new water filtration technology that has gained popularity in recent years in Florida, said Gautier City Manager Samantha Abell.
The result is water clarity the same as an osmosis plant, but with significantly reduced costs. The system will remove the brown coloring from the city’s water supply.
Construction cost is $2.1 million, about $300,000 less than what the city budgeted for the item, Abell said. An osmosis plant would have cost the city $5 million.
Gautier was able to refinance old debt and use the savings toward the new plant – at no new cost to residents, Abell said.
“In fact, the city reduced tap fees at the beginning of this budget year,” she said.
The ion exchange plant is on tap to be completed on June 24.
Water clarity has been an issue for Gautier since the city incorporated 29 years ago.
That’s an impediment for economic development, Abell said.
“I think the economic benefit (of the ion exchange plant) would be hard to estimate, but I probably wouldn’t want to build a new hotel in Gautier with the condition of the water today,” Abell said. “Although it’s completely safe to drink, it’s hard to explain to newcomers that brown water is normal.”
Some improvement has already been made.
The city contracted in December 2012 with Clearwater Solutions LLC to monitor, maintain and flush the water lines. “Already residents are seeing a marked improvement in water clarity,” Abell said.
Only the southern areas of the city – representing 40 percent of water users – continue to report color in the water, she said.
Once the new system is on line in June, Clearwater will flush the old water out of the system and replace it with treated water.
“We have approximately 150 miles of water line and five water storage tanks, so it will take several months before residents begin to notice a difference in water quality,” Abell said. “Keep in mind that this is a phased project and we are only treating water from three of our eight wells.”
Those three wells are located in the south part of the water system and “are the worst as far as color,” she said.
That means that, while the city will try to move the treated water through the entire water system, at some point, additional treatment capacity may be required.
The new plant is designed to double in size if needed.
Additionally, the city took advantage of Mississippi Development Authority’s energy efficiency initiative and retrofitted light fixtures and replaced all water meters with radio-read meters – also at no cost to residents.
“The city is not only paying for the upgrades from new revenue from more accurate meters, but we’re even able to afford a comprehensive new public management and management software program that will allow citizens to check online for their water usage and bills, building permits and privilege orders, and track work orders,” Abell said.
“Gautier’s successes shows how a small/medium size city can make big improvements without big debt, with careful management and planning,” she said.
The city recently attended a Mississippi Municipal League session and those in attendance were “very interested in what I call a ‘pay-as-you-go’ utility success,” Abell said.
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