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Newark Invests $23M in Water Treatment Plant Upgrade

New Jersey’s largest city, having already replaced 23,000 lead service lines to improve drinking water, will upgrade its water treatment plant to enhance taste, boost capacity and keep water costs low.

(TNS) — The rapid replacement of 23,000 lead service lines made Newark, N.J., a nationwide model for efficient infrastructure work and had Mayor Ras Baraka testifying before Congress about how they got the job done.

On Monday, he’ll continue efforts to improve drinking water quality in West Milford. The city will break ground on a $23 million upgrade of its treatment plant that will enhance the taste of city water, boost capacity in anticipation of increased demand, and keep the cost of water down.

“It’s going to make this treatment plant’s operations more efficient and effective,” said Kareem Adeem, the city’s water and sewer director. He testified on March 31 before the House Committee on Energy & Commerce during a hearing on upgrading the nation’s drinking water infrastructure.

Improvements to Newark’s Pequannock Water Treatment Plant will include: the replacement of valves and filters, the creation of an automated central control room, and changes to help remove organic particles and other impurities which are not yet regulated said Jerry Lotte, a drinking water consultant to the city who serves as the official operator of the Pequannock plant.

“We’re kind of getting ahead of the curve,” Lotte said. “Newark’s philosophy is to be best-in-class and first in the process.”

Felipe S. Contreras, the principal engineer at Kleinfelder, the San Diego-based engineering firm that designed the upgrade project, said the filtering material at the plant would change from a combination of gravel and anthracite to what’s known as granular activated carbon, or GAC.

“The GAC is able to treat taste and odors in the water,” Contreras said in an email.

He said the project is scheduled to take one year, during which water treatment at the plant will continue.

Officials said the upgrade would restore the plant to its original treatment capacity of 60 million gallons of water a day when it opened in 1989.

That capacity has declined to about 35 million gallons a day due to incremental tightening of federal turbidity levels — particles of soil, leaves and other foreign matter per gallon in drinking water — to three times more stringent than when the plant opened, officials said.

Officials said purifying water to a greater degree takes time and reduces the amount of water per day the plant could treat to acceptable turbidity levels.

The plant is located on Route 23 in a largely rural area of Passaic County, near a 37,000-acre watershed owned by the city that includes five reservoirs that supply the plant. The plant treats the water and pipes it to residents and businesses in Newark, and to customers in other towns that contract with the city to provide their drinking water, including Pequannock, Bloomfield, Bellville, Nutley, East Orange and Hillside.

Newark also belongs to and gets some of its water from the North Jersey District Water Supply Commission, a regional body with two reservoirs and a treatment plant in Wanaque.

The turbidity level of Newark’s treated drinking water is separate from the high lead content that plagued city water in the last decade, before the completion of a comprehensive lead service line replacement program this past winter.

Prior to the replacement program, lead got into the water after the treatment process through aging lines that carried drinking water from city mains into homes and introduced harmful lead particles into water that residents cooked and washed with and drank.

With help from legislation and a $120 million loan from Essex County, the program took less time than originally projected and earned the Baraka administration praise from the National League of Cities, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and Vice President Kamala Harris during a visit in February.

“This is a continuation of that same commitment to giving residents the safest, healthiest water,” Adeem said of the Pequannock plant upgrade.

He and others said boosting the plant’s capacity would help the city meet an anticipated increase in demand as its population grows, driving up residential and commercial water use.

That increased volume, he said, will help the city pay for the plant’s upgrade, which is being financed by a low-interest loan from the New Jersey Infrastructure Bank, a state fund for public projects. Adeem said it will also add to the water department’s overall revenue stream “and keep water rates for residents down.”

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