TAMPA, Fla. — The City of Tampa is at the beginning stages of an ambitious infrastructure build. The construction of a multi-phased water treatment plant. It'll be one of the most advanced in the country when finished.
With a price tag of $2.9 billion, the Progressive Infrastructure Plan to Ensure Sustainability (PIPES) is the most significant public works project in the city's history.
"This plant was originally designed to treat 8 million gallons a day; we are averaging around 80 million gallons a day today," Director of the Tampa Water Department Chuck Weber said. "We're at a point where this plant is essentially maxed out on its treatment."
Weber gave ABC Action News reporter Michael Paluska an up-close look at the 100-year-old water treatment plant and construction projects in progress. Weber said the century-old plant is still used to keep fresh water flowing throughout the city.
"But we've reached a point where it's really hard to maintain a lot of the original equipment, manufacturers who have been out of business a long time ago, it's hard to find parts," Weber said. "And sometimes we even have to manufacture the parts ourselves. So it's really expensive to maintain some of the older equipment. So right now, we are operating the original filters that were built almost 100 years ago."
"Are you guys always dealing with things that go wrong and failures where you're scrambling to make sure the water stays on?" Paluska asked.
"Well, you know, there are days where it's a scramble, but water treatment plants are built with redundancy. And so there's always a backup plan," Weber said. "And, so when we do have an issue, we fall on the backup plan, we practice the backup plan, so we're always ready."
The build-out will take more than a decade. But Weber said once it's complete all of the advancements in technology will help save the city money.
"So, one of the first projects we're working on over the next 10 years is replacing that intake and replacing those raw water pumps at the river," Weber said. "That's the first stage of treatment after that. Right now, the water goes to a coagulation stage; what we are planning on doing is adding an additional process that will build in redundancy and resiliency. It's called suspended ion exchange. That process will remove a lot of the Total Organic Carbon, which is what makes the Hillsborough River look brown. It's that tea color. So right now, we use a coagulation process and ozone to remove that, and it takes a lot of chemicals to do that. With the six process, we will be able to reduce our chemicals. And some of the other things we use to reduce our overall operation and maintenance expenses by about $4 million per year."
According to the City's website, the PIPES project will cost consumers more money with a gradual rate increase for water and wastewater over 20 years. There is also a new monthly base charge for water and wastewater services.
To help vulnerable households adapt to the rate increase, the city expanded its customer assistance program. Qualifying residential utility customers can apply for the Customer Assistance Program. If approved, all water and wastewater base charges will be waived.