Six million gallons. That’s how much water the new Ames water treatment plant churns out every single day to meet the water needs of the city’s population. As the Ames community continues to grow, treatment plant staff expect to continue building up to the plants’ maximum capacity; an astonishing 15 million gallons of water treated per day.
Iowa Learning Farms/Water Rocks! staff had the opportunity to take a guided tour of the new plant last week, and learned some awe-inspiring facts about where our water comes from, and how it’s cleaned for everyday use. Read on to learn about the new plant and its water treatment process. We hope you will be inspired to plan a visit to your local water treatment plant to learn about where your own water comes from!
A 2008 study determined that the old Ames water treatment plant, in operation since 1924, would not be able to meet the needs of the fast-growing Ames community. The Ames City Council approved a plan for developing a new treatment plant in 2009, and the $69 million project was awarded to a Minnesota construction company in 2014. According to a City of Ames brochure, it took 2 years, 8 months, 12 days, 12 hours, and 12 minutes until construction on the plant was completed in August 2017. The LEED-certified drinking water treatment plant has been using its 20,180 feet of pipeline to serve more than 18,000 Ames homes and businesses, Iowa State University, the Xenia Rural Water District, and the National Centers for Animal Health, ever since.
Fun Facts about the Ames Water Treatment Plant
- All of Ames’ water comes the Ames aquifer, accessed through nearly 22 wells in 3 geographic areas. The plant uses wells that access both confined (groundwater that is surrounded by impermeable layers of soil/rock that keep surface water from entering) and unconfined (groundwater that mixes with water seeping in from the surface) aquifers.
- Everything in the new treatment plant is run by central computers. In the event of an electrical power outage, the plant has a generator that could run the entire plant for 30 days.
- The Ames water treatment plant is staffed 24/7, with 5 full-time operators, 4 student operators, 10-15 maintenance personnel, and 6-9 part-time and full-time office staff.
- The 6 million gallons of water cleaned every day at the plant are turned around in just 3-4 hours, from aquifer to home or business.
Senior Operator, Mike Buns, led the Iowa Learning Farms/Water Rocks! tour of the new water treatment plant. According to Buns,
“The old mantra was ‘The solution to pollution is dilution: flush it on down.’ Thankfully we don’t do that anymore.”
Buns has been with the City of Ames and their water treatment facilities for two decades. Trained in marine biology, Buns takes the safety and quality of the Ames water supply very seriously. He walked ILF staff through the seven steps of cleaning water at the plant before it’s sent to one of the three water towers serving the city of Ames.
- Aeration—three large aeration units outside the plant aerate the incoming water in order to oxidize iron and remove both carbon dioxide and hydrogen sulfide.
- Softening—lime (calcium hydroxide) and additional polymers are added to the water to raise the pH and soften the water, and to encourage solid particles to bind together.
- Disinfection—chlorine is added to help kill harmful bacteria.
- Sedimentation—solid particles that have settled from added lime are drained out. This “lime sludge” is taken to local farm fields and recycled as a soil conditioner.
- Stabilization—carbon dioxide gas is diffused through the water to recarbonate it and stop the softening reaction, and then polyphosphate is added to stabilize the water and assure a pH level of near 9.5.
- Filtration—the water then travels to one of 8 filters, where it moves through levels of coal and sand to remove fine particles that haven’t yet been filtered out by earlier treatment steps.
- Fluoridation—before water is pumped out to homes and business, fluoride is added for dental protection as per recommendations of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Environmental Protection Agency.
Buns shared with ILF staff that the average single-family home in Ames uses 160 gallons of water every day. With fresh water making up only 1% of the earth’s total water supply, dedicating attention and care to how we keep it clean for human use is imperative. The new City of Ames water treatment plant is doing just that, and it shows in every step of their treatment process. ILF is grateful to have had an opportunity to see the ins and outs of the new plant, and we encourage YOU to check out your local water treatment plant to see where YOUR water comes from!