Water World: Treatment plant gets $11 million facelift

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 7, 2004

This isn’t exactly a topic you’ll sit around the dinner table discussing later tonight — and for good reason — but an $11 million project in Demopolis has this city primed to expand over the next two decades.

Every day, more than 1 million gallons of sewerage are pumped through a 24-inch wide pipe leading to the Demopolis waste water treatment plant. Strictly regulated by the Alabama Department of Environmental Management, the requirements for cleaning that sewerage have all but forced the hand of the city to drastically upgrade the facilities at the treatment plant.

“We’ve always had the ability to take in about 2.65 million gallons [of sewerage] per day,” said Byron Cook, project manager for Veolia Water North America — the company that manages the city’s treatment plant. “But in the older part of the plant, we can’t properly treat the water now, so we’re putting in the new plant.”

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In the late 1970s, when Demopolis opened its treatment plant, a row of filters that look much like a row of greenhouses originally helped “de-bug” the water. Now, that part of the plant — good only for a few of its parts, according to Cook — will be removed and possibly sold.

“It hasn’t been in use for about eight months now,” Cook said.

According to Mayor Austin Caldwell, who also serves on the city’s water board, ADEM continues to tighten its regulations on what a treatment plant can discharge back into the water cycle. In the case of Demopolis, sewerage is sent through a number of cleansing steps before filtering into the Tombigbee River.

“Every three or four years, they hand down stricter regulations of what you can put back in,” Caldwell said.

In essence, those ADEM regulations have caused the expansion of the city’s treatment plant.

“This will enable us to treat the water better; it will be more efficient,” Cook said.

Even with the old treatment system, the city was able to handle up to 2.65 millions of waste water every day. But as the equipment has become out-dated, treatment has fallen behind environmental regulations.

“When you have something more efficient, you can also handle more and be more productive,” Cooks said.

That’s why Caldwell and Demopolis city officials have borrowed almost $9 million in the effort to modernize the treatment plant. Another $2.5 million of the money used to renovate the plant came through a USDA grant obtained recently by the city.

The renovation also has caused a small spike in the amount citizens pay each month for water.

“There was a 10-percent increase on everyone’s bill in January,” Caldwell said. “And it will go up another 10 percent next January.”

While a 20-percent increase in water cost may seem extraordinary to citizens, both Caldwell and Cook believe the improvements ultimately will help the city.

For Caldwell, the higher water bill signals an investment by citizens who want Demopolis to grow. For Cook, having a more efficient plant gives the city more lee-way with new businesses and population increases.

“If you look at your water bill, it’s still a lot cheaper than most places,” Cook said.

Along with the addition at the treatment plant — which will cost around $5 million — the city also will use a large portion of the money to relieve some of the sewage-line pressure from downtown.

Caldwell said the city is almost ready to let bids for a force main that will extend from Highway 43 South and run west all the way to the area near the Demopolis Villas.