New water treatment unit goes online

Boasts higher capacity and energy efficiency
Fri, 08/12/2016 - 11:45am

The Town of New Shoreham is the beneficiary of a newly repurposed water treatment unit courtesy of grant funding and some ingenuity and hard work by the Block Island Water Company’s staff. The water treatment unit officially came online on Wednesday, Aug. 3, when potable water was first delivered to the facility’s two 150,000-gallon storage tanks.

“It took a year for us to build it,” Water Company Supt. John Breunig told The Block Island Times during a tour of the facility on Friday, Aug. 5. “Most of the work was done in-house. We’re very proud of what we’ve done. We have some ownership, and familiarity with it, which is great.”

According to the Water Company, the newly built water treatment unit will be more energy efficient with “significantly increased capacity” than the Water Company's old treatment unit. “The water we’re producing is a better quality water than bottled water,” added Water Company Operator Thom Burney.

The new water treatment unit, built at a total cost of $100,000, was funded in large part by a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant, a $20,000 Rhode Island Office of Energy Resources' Public Energy Partnership grant for the electrical portion, and the Water Company's capital budget. Breunig said the new treatment unit is producing 63,000 more gallons per day than the company’s old treatment unit, which is a 33-percent increase over previous capacity. With installation of the new treatment unit, the Water Company went from producing 187,000 gallons per day to 245,000 gallons per day.

This summer the Water Company met the demand of one of the “busiest months on record” in the facility’s history. “On July 3 we produced 190,000 gallons of water. That’s a record,” he said. “For the month of July, we averaged 155,000-gallons per day.” Breunig said the new treatment unit will help the Water Company meet its peak demand periods.

After the water treatment unit was constructed, “Thom kept saying, ‘I can’t believe we built this ourselves,’” said Breunig, who noted that he applied for the OER grant to fund construction of the treatment unit “three years ago. It was a long process,” he remarked. 

Breunig said he and his two operators, Thom Burney and Jordan Ryan, spent part of their workdays over the past year building the new treatment unit. “We didn’t build it entirely from scratch,” said Breunig, who noted that he and his staff utilized the framework of the old water treatment unit as a foundation to build the repurposed system. “The three electrical components for the system were installed by an electrician,” he said.

Breunig explained to The Times that the water treatment unit uses a “reverse osmosis” to remove salt, iron and manganese from brackish water supplied from a 250-foot deep well and converts it into the potable, purified water that is consumed at the local level. Reverse osmosis is a water purification technology that utilizes a semipermeable membrane to remove unwanted materials from drinking water.

“We don’t use surface water,” said Breunig. “This new unit treats brackish ground water using reverse osmosis.”

Breunig noted that in 2001 the Block Island Water Company was the first water facility in New England to operate a reverse osmosis unit, after installing its original, pilot, treatment unit in 1997. He also said the Water Company receives its water supply from three different production wells, and regularly tests the water it supplies to the town in its lab.

Since 1887, the Water Company had been drawing its water from Sands Pond, before converting in 2002 to its current, well-based, brackish water supply. After being depleted and run dry due to overusage and drought, Sands Pond has been revitalized and serves as the Water Company’s emergency backup supply.

“It’s been a positive experience since switching to reverse osmosis in 2002,” said Breunig. “The pond has come back to life and is thriving. We don’t use it as a regular source anymore.”

In addition to serving commercial and household needs, Burney said that “although not an industry standard for rural water systems, the Water Company maintains 50-percent of its storage capacity for fire protection purposes.” He also noted that the facility uses “one tank per day” in supplying the town with water during the busy summer season.

In describing the new treatment unit, Bruenig noted that the Water Company separates the good portion of the water from the part of it that is unusable. “We don’t filter the water,” he said, while pointing to the pipes and machinery comprising the new system.  

“Most people just turn on the tap,” remarked Breunig. “They don’t know the journey that the water takes to get to their property.”