The search for a solution to the woes at the Kaw Water Treatment Plant continues as City Hall leaders confirmed that the hot weather pushed the city close to its water treatment capacity earlier this week.
City officials pumped 24.9 million gallons of water Tuesday. Originally, leaders with the city’s Utilities Department thought that was a new water treatment record for the city. But further digging found that the city pumped 28.3 million gallons one hot day during the summer of 2003.
That record won’t fall anytime soon. The city can’t pump 28 million gallons of water right now. Officials estimate 25 million gallons is close to the city’s capacity. The city’s water treatment system continues to be operating at reduced levels as plant operators work to figure out why the Kaw Water Treatment Plant is struggling to draw water from the Kansas River.
“We’re really stretching the system right now,” said Dave Wagner, the city’s director of utilities.
The plant, near Third and Indiana streets, is operating with just one Kaw River intake. The other intake has been inoperable for several years. But within the last month, the remaining intake has been experiencing periodic blockage that has prevented the intake from drawing water into the plant.
Wagner told Lawrence city commissioners that the city has hired a diver to go beneath the water and visually inspect the intake pipe. That work is scheduled for mid-August, but the city is trying to get it done sooner.
That’s because with the hot weather, the city’s other water treatment plant — the Clinton Treatment Plant off Wakarusa Drive — is operating at capacity.
The Clinton plant has been running at its design capacity of about 20 million gallons of water per day. City crews are using a temporary pump installed in the Kansas River to operate the Kaw plant at about 5 million gallons per day. It has a normal capacity of 17 million gallons.
Jeanette Klamm, a spokeswoman for the Utilities Department, said operating the Clinton Plant at its maximum capacity is similar to running a car near its top speed for an extended period of time. But Klamm said the city is still optimistic that residents won’t be asked to curtail their water usage in the coming days.
“Barring another mechanical breakdown, we’re hopeful that it won’t come to that,” Klamm said. “Right now, we are prepared for the worst, but we’re not expecting to have to take those types of steps.”
The city already has committed to spend at least $200,000 in emergency repairs at the Kaw plant, but much more money is on the way. City commissioners at Tuesday’s meeting gave preliminary approval for a 2 percent increase in water rates. Part of that rate money will be used to finance a $7 million project to build a second intake at the plant.
City Manager David Corliss told commissioners he believed the project had risen to the level of an absolute necessity.
“It is work that is necessary to keep the system operational and to ensure that we have adequate water pressure throughout the community,” Corliss said.
But Corliss said many of the details of the $7 million project are unknown currently. He said the recent problems at the plant have raised questions about whether it would be wise to rebuild the intake at its current location. There are concerns that changes in the river may no longer make that particular spot feasible. Corliss said the city may have to look for another location or explore other technological solutions. He said some dredging might be an option.
“We’re going to get consulting engineers in place rapidly to look at all the options,” Corliss said. “We don’t know all the contours of the project, but we know we need more than one intake.”