Upgrades to Lake Panorama Water Plant Being Considered

By Susan Thompson

Construction of the Lake Panorama water plant began in 1969, the same year work on the Lake Panorama dam got underway. Since then, the operation has become increasingly complex. Mike Gliem, who supervisors the Lake Panorama Water Company, answers questions about potential updates to the water operation.

Q: Tell us about LPA’s current water treatment system.

A: LPA currently operates a water treatment facility to provide potable water to roughly 1,000 homes at Lake Panorama. Our system is comprised of both Dakota Aquifer and Jordan Aquifer wells, with water from these wells blended and treated at the LPA water plant. The system is functioning effectively, but mitigating the high iron and manganese content in the Dakota wells is an ongoing challenge. LPA is in the process of exploring improvements to the plant, which will position the association to provide high quality potable water to its membership over the long term.

Q: LPA recently has been talking about a reverse osmosis pilot plant. Explain what the terms “reverse osmosis” and “pilot plant” mean?

A: Reverse osmosis is a type of water treatment process that uses membranes to remove impurities from the water. It is widely used and is a highly reliable approach to water treatment.

The term “pilot plant” essentially means a small scale version of what the LPA would run as a full scale reverse osmosis water plant. Pilot plants are required by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources to permit changes of this nature. The pilot plant also provided LPA with a good prediction of what finished water quality and annual operating costs would be, if such a system is constructed.

The 2017 pilot plant study provided a wealth of relevant information to the staff, board and membership of LPA. First of all, we’re pleased to report the preliminary findings indicate this would be a very appropriate type of system for LPA. The pilot plant function was excellent at removing impurities and achieving the desired results.

Second, the pilot plant indicated annual operating expenses would be very similar to what LPA spends today to operate our current system. Chemical use would be decreased at the plant, which would offset additional reverse osmosis expenses for filters and electricity. LPA still needs to discuss options for paying for the initial construction cost of this plant, but it is good news to learn the day-to-day operating expenses would not represent a more expensive process.

Q: How does this potential upgrade relate to the improvements of 2010 and 2011?

A: The proposed pilot plant project would build on the improvements of 2010 and 2011, with almost all of our existing assets remaining an integral part of the future system. The major exception would be the Dakota Aquifer wells, which would no longer be used by LPA. LPA has enjoyed a long period of use from these wells, but we believe it would be prudent to discontinue reliance on these wells because of the chronic challenges they present with regard to iron and manganese, which causes periodic brown and black water.

A reverse osmosis plant would be coupled with the construction of a second Jordan well, which would replace the volume lost by abandonment of the Dakota wells. The two Jordan wells are a good fit for reverse osmosis and would be a much more reliable combination of source water and treatment technology.

Q: What is the cost and timeline of this project?

A: The timeline for a project of this nature can be as long as three years. LPA has already completed the pilot plant phase, which means another 18 to 24 months would be needed from the time a decision is made.

The cost of this project is estimated at $3.5 million. Around one-third of this is for a new Jordan well, with the other two-thirds for the reverse osmosis system and a waste discharge system into the Middle Raccoon River, below the LPA dam.

Funding will be discussed by the LPA board, with input from the LPA membership requested as part of a fall 2017 membership survey. A variety of funding options exist with regard to rate increases and/or assessments. But as an example, the cost is equivalent to roughly $30 per month, per household, over a 10-year period.

Q: Why is this important to members?

A: Municipal water systems are highly regulated and it takes up to three years to implement substantial improvements. We believe it is a staff responsibility to be proactive and ensure we plan for improvement and upgrades in a timely fashion. Upgrading to a reverse osmosis plant during the 2018-2019 timeframe would allow us to manage the current system for another two years, and then move away from the questionable reliability of the Dakota aquifer wells.

Also, the quality of the finished product will be far superior to what we’re able to provide today. Most members operate a water softener in their home and spend a substantial amount of money on salt to soften our water from 440 mg/l down to 140 mg/l. LPA’s increase in water rates would likely be offset, to some degree, by reduced salt consumption by individual members. Those who like their water really soft could continue to use their softeners, but the amount of salt consumed would be less than it is today.

Q: What else should members know about this?

A: $3.5 million is a large number, but is very manageable for a community of our size. LPA’s water rates remain very competitive compared to other communities, which gives us a great opportunity to have a discussion about funding options. I encourage members to participate in the upcoming survey, as both the LPA board and staff values your questions and input on the future of our water treatment system.