Archive for Tuesday, May 5, 1998


May 5, 1998


Cities across the United States are looking at the quality of drinking water this week

Twenty-three city employees operate Lawrence's two water treatment facilities, which will be pumping up to 20 million gallons of water a day from the Kansas River and Clinton Lake this summer.


The city of Lawrence is gearing up for increasing water demands that come with summer, from lawns that need a drink to long lines at car washes.

Lawrence's two water treatment plants can treat a total of 27.5 million gallons of water a day, but the high mark in the city's history of 21.6 million gallons came on June 22, 1988. The average precipitation across the state was 20.09 inches that year -- giving Kansas its driest year since 1966.

The plants were pumping about 5 million gallons from the Kansas River and Clinton Lake this past week, but by mid-summer, the cities, towns and water districts that receive the treated water will be using about twice that amount. The average daily usage is 11 million gallons, which dips to 7 million gallons a day in the winter.

``If there's a drought, it could hit as high as 21 (million gallons) or more, but if it's damp, it could be only 17 million,'' said Keith Whealy, water treatment supervisor for the city.

Quality, quantity

Lawrence, Wellsville, Edgerton, Baldwin and five other water district use the water treated at the two local plants.

Overall, 4 billion gallons of water will pass through pipes at the water plants this year.

``That sounds like a lot of water, but on two hot summer days in Chicago they'll go through that,'' Whealy said.

The Clinton Reservoir Water Treatment Plant -- on the west side of Wakarusa Drive, just north of Clinton Parkway -- can suck 10 million gallons from Clinton Lake each day; the Kaw River Water Treatment Plant, 720 W. Third, can go through 17.5 million gallons a day.

Lawrence residents however, are more concerned with quality, not quantity, of the water.

``It's good water, and it's safe to drink,'' said Shari Stamer, the city's water quality manager. ``We don't live in a sterile environment, but the water we release is free of the microbes we're supposed to test for.''

Purifying water

This week is Drinking Water Week in Lawrence and across the country. A display about local water treatment is at the Lawrence Public Library, 707 Vt., and Stamer is encouraging groups and individuals to tour the plants.

Quality-control technicians in the plant labs test the water for hardness, temperature, pH, chlorine content and other standards. The tests are done every two hours, which is twice the amount mandated by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

Monthly and quarterly samples are also sent to KDHE.

Water at the two plants goes through a complex cleansing process, beginning with a pre-sedimentation basin that sifts mud and sand from the water in a million-gallon tank. The sludge is then swept into drains and flushed back into the river.

In the future, the city plans to build lagoons to the north of the Kaw plant to store the sludge, which will be given to farmers to treat fields or shipped to the landfill. Tighter environmental regulations are bringing about the change, Whealy said.

Potassium permanganate is added to remove iron and manganese and to enhance the taste, Whealy said, along with carbons that remove pesticides that pour into bodies of water near farmland.

State law requires that drinking water must have no more than 3 parts per billion of atrizine, a component of herbicides. Chris Stewart, water systems engineer for both plants, compared that amount to three seconds out of every 32 years.

In the next basin, the ``magic'' happens, Whealy said. Underwater propellers, similar to paddle boat wheels, ``flocculate'' the water, causing the remaining debris to cling together after alum, lime and soda ash are added, along with polyelectrolytes. The silty debris floats to the bottom of the flocculation basins, and city employees drain the water twice a year to clean the sediment with fire hoses.

The Kaw plant flocculation tanks went through the spring-cleaning process last week, and residents in the area might have noticed the fishy smell wafting through the neighborhood.

``We do this each April to check the equipment and to clean them,'' Whealy said. ``We're getting ready for the summer's high usage, and in September or October, we'll do it again.''

By the time the water has passed through the settling basins, it's 98 percent clear water. The final stage forces the water through complex filters that are 4 feet deep and composed of granulated carbon, sand and three grades of gravel.

Whealy said the plants can treat 5 million gallons of water in 18 hours when the plant is running at an average capacity.

The original Kaw River plant was built in 1917, and an addition was finished in 1958. Antique gauges and instrument used to measure gallons of water and pressure line the shelves in the plant's offices, and Stamer said the city plans to build a small gallery at the plant to display them. The gallery might be completed by the end of the year, Stamer said.

To schedule a tour, call the Kaw River Water Treatment Plant at 832-7800.

-- Chris Koger's phone message number is 832-7126. His e-mail address is

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