Sugar Land drinks in new water blend from $69 million surface water treatment plant

By Betsy Dolan 

Residents who participated in a taste test on Nov. 8, 2008, returned to sample the final product after Sugar Land placed its new surface water treatment plant in service. Pictured (L-R) are Assistant City Manager Karen Daly; Councilmembers Steve R. Porter and Himesh Gandhi; resident Jim Kij; City Councilmember Harish Jajoo; residents John Novak, Yaffa Steubinger and Tom Coughlin; City Manager Allen Bogard; Senior Project Manager Michael Fox; and resident Jane Goodsill.

When Sugar Land residents turned on the faucet Monday, they likely did not notice anything different. But the water pouring out of the spigot was a new blended mix of groundwater and surface water courtesy of a $69 million dollar surface water treatment plant that went online October 31.

The new plant, near the intersection of Voss and Burney Road in the Gannoway Lake area is the largest capital improvement project ever completed by the City.

The plant was built to meet the Fort Bend Subsidence District’s state mandate that 30 percent of the City’s water supply must come from a non-groundwater source by 2016. The requirement is intended to reduce subsidence–or land sinking–which contributes to flooding in the Houston area and is caused by pumping groundwater from aquifers.

The surface water treatment plant will supply 9 million gallons per day with the capacity to expand to 22 million gallons per day in the future. The City has obtained water rights in Oyster Creek to supply the plant.

Water from Oyster Creek is brought to storage ponds that can hold 27 million gallons–roughly a three day reserve. From there, the water is pumped into the plant where it undergoes a variety of high-tech treatment processes including low pressure membrane filtration which removes pathogens like cryptosporidium and giardia that live in lakes and rivers.

“The membranes are thin enough for the water to pass through but too thick for the pathogens to follow,” said Assistant Director of Water Utilities, Jessie Li. “Prior to the membrane process, the water clarity is already on par with drinkable groundwater”.

The treated surface water leaving the plant will be pumped to two existing groundwater plants and mixed with treated groundwater before entering the citywide distribution system. When the water comes out of a Sugar Land faucet, it is 30% surface water and 70% ground water and is, according to Li, comparable to the bottled water available in grocery stores.

“The City of Sugar Land actually has higher drinking water standards than the state and federal drinking water standards which are already pretty stringent”, Li said.

The plant is poised for expansion when the next round of groundwater reduction requirements, 60% by 2025, take effect. Li says the plant can expand, first to 10.85 million gallons a day then to 11.5 million gallons a day, without any additional expense. The Texas Center for Environmental Quality will have to approve any expansion beyond the current 9 million gallons a day.

A group of taste testers who comments and suggestions five years ago helped create the water taste coming out of the plant today, came back to taste the new water blend.

“They said the water was good and had no after taste which is important,” Li said. “No one wants water with an after taste.”

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