Utilities Department Invites Public Comment On White Rock Water Resource Recovery Facility At Virtual Meeting Jan. 21

An aerial view of the wastewater treatment plant that has run its course in White Rock. Courtesy/LAC

Los Alamos Daily Post

The wastewater treatment plant in White Rock has run its course and the Los Alamos Department of Public Utilities (DPU) is working to replace the approximately 60-year-old plant with a new, cutting edge water resource recovery facility.

Before construction equipment is powered up to build a new facility, a public hearing is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 21 on Zoom. During the hearing, the project will be reviewed and public comment collected. To attend the meeting, preregister at https://ladpu.com/WR-WRRF.

The project cost is estimated to be $17 million and scheduled for completion in 2022.

DPU Engineering Project Manager Clay Moseley said he isn’t aware of any potential concerns about the new water resource recovery facility. What is concerning is the state of the existing plant, he said.

“The water quality our current plant is producing is not up to our standards anymore,” Moseley said.

When the plant was built in the 1960s it was cutting edge technology, but it saw the end of its functional, or expected life some time ago, he said.

“We have done a lot of things to keep it running … that has been a lot of work,” Moseley said. “We had to pull a lot of rabbits out of our hat.”

The new plant will not only utilize current cutting-edge technology but offer cost savings, he said.

First, Moseley said the new plant will release treated water that will be Class 1A effluent, which will irrigate the fields at Overlook Park. Class 1A effluent is the cleanest standard that can be achieved, he said.

Moseley said what is used now to water the fields at Overlook is OK, but it can be improved.

Additionally, the new plant will offer a lot of great features, he said.

“Some of the new features that are going to be part of the new plant … we will have UV disinfection,” Moseley said. “For the first time we will be adding tertiary treatment, which is a common term in municipal wastewater treatment … this is the third stage of treatment … this will be the first time Los Alamos County employs filtration in any of our wastewater treatment processes … we are going to employ that at the Los Alamos plant as well. Both plants are going to be producing much cleaner effluent water.”

In designing the new plant, Moseley said the design team (Los Alamos County and the consulting engineers) engaged frequently with the City of Albuquerque’s plant, which uses a similar type of filtration.

He added that space for the new plant is being optimized. He said the plan is to retain and treat water in as small amount of space as possible. A circular, racetrack-like basin for oxidation will be used to utilize more space in the compact land that the plant will be located on. He added the goal is to not pump water and figure out how to use gravity flow, which could offer cost savings.

“This will be a very efficient in terms of energy use,” Moseley said. “And in general, it will be a very efficient plant.”

This new plant will have a lot more automation features, too, he said. This will keep staff from having to drive back and forth between the two plants in White Rock and Los Alamos.

“We’re finally entering the 21st century … this is pretty common in other municipalities,” Moseley said. “This is one large quantum leap to go from the 60s’ to the 21st century.”

With the new Mirador development and more housing planned in the future in White Rock, he added the plans for the new plant do address potential growth in White Rock.

“We had to anticipate some growth,” Moseley said. “.. the plant will be able to handle 40-50 percent increase in capacity if need be.”

As far as the timeline for the project, Moseley said, “we’re getting close to 100 percent design.”

Bids will be open at the end of May and the project should be awarded in June, he said. Planning and Zoning and the Los Alamos County Council will need to approve the project. Moseley said construction is expected to be completed in 2022. Even with the new plant constructed, he said the old one will still need to operate temporarily. To treat the wastewater, the new plant will need to incubate and grow bacteria while the old plant is still in use. Additionally, Moseley said the new plant will need to be tested.

Moseley credited DPU staff, the consulting engineering firms of Bohannon Huston, Inc. and AQUA Engineering of Salt Lake City, and especially the wastewater plant operators, who he said added a lot of design expertise to the new plant.

“It’s going to be such a huge improvement,” he said. “The water quality is going to be something to be proud of and a responsible use of this valuable resource.”

According to a DPU press release, the $17 million project is funded through a low-interest loan approved through the Clean Water State Revolving Fund Loan program. In 2019 the Board of Public Utilities and the County Council approved sewer rate increases to ensure adequate revenue to repay this loan.

There are a lot of unknowns with the budget, Moseley pointed out. DPU is studying market behavior and trying to figure out what the cost will be for steel, concrete, pipe and plastic.

“We are concerned about what the construction cost is going to be,” he said. “We are aware of it and left a lot of contingency; we have stayed conservative with our budget and haven’t added too many bells and whistles … we are anticipating some issues with construction costs.”

DPU Public Relations Manager Julie Williams-Hill said that a couple of years ago the Board of Public Utilities and County Council agreed to transfer to the wastewater fund some of the surplus money from the natural gas and the water production utilities funds to pay down the loan on the Los Alamos wastewater plant. As a result, DPU was able to secure a low interest rate for the loan to construct the new White Rock plant, she said.

“That was a collaborative effort and a creative effort with both of these governing bodies to prevent the sewer rate increases approved in 2019 from being significantly higher,” Williams-Hill said.

Prior to the public hearing, Williams-Hill encourages the public to visit https://ladpu.com/WR-WRRF for more information on the project or email her at Julie.williams@lacnm.us with comments on the project. Williams-Hill said to put “public comment” in the subject line. Emails will be accepted up to Jan. 21.