Artwork of Marys River, camas and drawing of new water plant
An aerial view of the Marys River, top left, an image of a camas, top right, and a drawing of the new water treatment plant’s facade. (Graphic by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Philomath should break ground on its $16.1 million water treatment plant project on South Ninth Street late this summer or early fall if everything falls into place with the permitting process. The project’s first phase will include the construction of the reservoir, which will double the city’s treated water capacity to 2 million gallons per day, while the second phase will include the physical plant.

City officials hope to go online with the new plant during the summer of 2022.

The latest timeline update came out information that Westech Engineering submitted to Kevin Fear, Public Works director, who said the hope had been to break ground in early July.

Westech told Fear that all permits for the reservoir and physical plant have been submitted to various state and federal agencies, a list that includes the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Department of State Lands, Department of Environmental Quality and the State Historic Preservation Office. The permits are currently in a review period.

“We are in the middle of the design process in the reservoir and the WTP (water treatment plant) but are proceeding carefully given that the permits are still under review,” Westech reported.

The reservoir’s wetlands fill permit application is one of those under review with stakeholders weighing in. The wetland delineation review with the Department of State Lands is pending after a March 3 submission date. The delineation review determines the location and extent of wetlands on the property and must be completed before any work can be done on the site.

The reservoir site features a patch of common camas, which Fear said is a plant that has generated significant local interest. Over the past couple of years, a few different groups have volunteered to go out and salvage the camas — which Fear said have bulbs that can go 18 inches deep — to be moved to another site. But those efforts didn’t materialize for various reasons and in the end, the project engineer found an individual who specializes in cultivating and growing camas.

“We’ll go out and salvage seed when it’s ready this year in that area,” Fear said about the current plan. “When the contractor comes in and digs it up, it sounds like you can find the bulbs easier when it’s up in a spoil pile and being able to dig through it.”

With the bulbs, they would need to be planted immediately while the seeds can be kept for use at a later date.

“Our hope is once the reservoir is built, it’ll have dirt that slopes up to it, then we can broadcast this seed around there and reintroduce it to the slope,” Fear said. “And also, we talked about maybe salvaging seed for two more years afterwards and trying to get it reintroduced.”

Fear knows the camas plants are important. In fact, he mentioned that whenever the city’s mower hits Marys River Park and other nearby areas, “we probably get two to three calls about ‘don’t mow the camas.’ … it’s a big thing.”

In addition to doubling the city’s treated water capacity, the new reservoir will also provide storage capacity to the water system for emergency use. The 1.5-million gallon reservoir features prestressed concrete tanks, which are reportedly more durable with negligible maintenance, and membrane filtration technology.

The capacity can be expanded in the future for up to as much as 6 million gallons per day.

“It’s about a year to build the reservoir,” Fear said on the timeline. “The water plant’s more like six to eight months and hopefully it’ll all come together and be done all at the same time.”

Phase 2 will include not only construction of the water treatment plant, but also a pump station located near a raw water intake site and various other support facilities.

“We plan to have the reservoir design completed by mid to late July and will be going out to bid as soon as possible thereafter,” Westech’s report to Fear stated. “At this point, the start of the construction period is being driven by the successful conclusion of the permit review period. Once we have the permits in hand, we can officially begin construction.”

A new site for the location of the system’s raw water intake had to be located with the river shifting away from the old intake.

“It’s really interesting how much the Marys River has moved in that area … where the intake is now is like 75 feet out of the water; the water wouldn’t be anywhere close,” Fear said. “They’re moving it downstream a little bit to an area that is more stable and where the river has stayed pretty much in the same channel.”

The water treatment plant is in its 36th year of operation — 16 years beyond the typical life expectancy for its design. The building will not be torn down after it is decommissioned, Fear said, but will continue to be used by staff for office space and restrooms.

“The clear well sits under all that and the new plant will use that clear well,” Fear added. “It’ll be expanded, but that way we don’t have to spend all the money to build a new one and it’s in good shape.”

The new water plant will be constructed just to the north of the current building to create an L-shaped facility.

The opening of a new water treatment plant in Philomath can’t come soon enough. Fear said “we’ve had several scary times” while keeping the current plant up and running.

“We had a (control) unit that went out that I don’t know if we could’ve run the plant at that point,” Fear said Tuesday morning. “(Operators) Dennis (Lewis) and James (Winge) got on the internet and I think called some other people that had plants like ours at one time and did some searching and cross-referencing … they put quite a bit into it.”

The unit was sent via overnight delivery to be installed as soon as possible to keep the plant going, Fear added.

When the plant does need to go offline, the city switches to its Ninth Street well or utilizes a water system intertie in place with Corvallis.

This week, Fear said the city needed to buy new chemical feed pumps.

“Our engineer got us set up with the one that’s going to be used in our new plant,” Fear said. “So we’ll be able to reuse this one that we just bought.”

Now, the plant is having issues with outdated PLCs — programmable logic controllers — that in basic terms serve as the brains of the system.

“If those go away, we could probably find something different to keep us limping along,” Fear said.

Again, the new water treatment plant will be celebrated by those in the trenches.

Said Fear, “We’re looking forward to being able to sleep at night again a little better.”

Did you enjoy this content? The news site has no paywall but we do rely on voluntary memberships. If you’re already a member, thank you. To join our community as a member or to make a one-time contribution, please CLICK HERE.