By CASSIE MCKEE, Four Points News
Construction on Water Treatment Plant 4 in Four Points is more than 85 percent complete and on schedule to be finished by this summer, according to Bill Stauber, supervising engineer with Austin Water.
“We’re transitioning into the startup of equipment and startup of systems and making sure everything’s working,” Stauber said. “We’re moving into the testing and startup phase.”
Once construction is complete around July, engineers will begin testing all the plant’s equipment and systems, which means it may be sometime before the plant is fully operational.
“The plant has a lot of moving parts,” said Jason Hill, senior public information officer with Austin Water. “It’s not like you just turn the lights on. It can take a little bit of time after that to be fully operational.”
Why WTP4 was built
Once operational, WTP4 will produce 50 million gallons of water per day. In 30 to 40 years, the plant will be expanded to produce 300 million gallons per day. Hill said part of the purpose of WTP4 is to save future generations from having to build another water treatment plant.
Hill said WTP4 will provide water for the tremendous growth the area is seeing.
“With water, nothing happens overnight,” Hill said. “To move and treat water, it takes time to build that infrastructure and it takes money.”
The $508 million project is being funded through a variety of sources, including bonds and cash for capital improvement projects, Hill said.
He said the new plant was needed also because it allows Austin Water to take one or two of the existing plants, which were built in the 1950s and 60s, temporarily offline for repairs.
“Before we decommissioned the Green Water Treatment Plant, we wanted to have that commitment that we were building this new water plant,” Stauber said.
Lake Travis levels
WTP4 will take water from Lake Travis. Though lake levels remain extremely low, Hill said the raw water intake point is in one of the deepest parts of the lake.
“That means when lake levels run low, when other utilities have to turn their spicket off, this particular treatment plant will still be pulling water and be able to serve us and our customers,” Hill said.
WTP4 will not further deplete Lake Travis levels because LCRA manages those levels. Once up and running, if the water does not go to WTP4 then LCRA will release it through Lake Austin for its other two plants.
One major reason WTP4 was built in Four Points is that the location is 200 feet higher in elevation than the other Austin Water plants, and it is Austin’s first gravity-run plant. It will be more economical to run this plant because of gravity, Hill said.
Hill said the construction of the plant has been a big economic boon for the city. He said the major contractor for the project has employed 385 subcontractors, 88-90 percent of whom were based in the local area, who have earned almost $270 million dollars since the project began in summer 2010. Of that, $54 million was earned as of Jan. 1 by women and minority-owned businesses, which is a big priority for the city, he said.
Every day there are 250-300 skilled tradespeople working at the site.
“It’s been a big economic benefit to the area,” Hill said. “It was started at a time when things were tight. As a city we were able to procure materials for a lesser price and the job itself provided jobs when jobs were few at the time.”
Additionally he said while the project is one of the biggest projects in the city, it has had an excellent safety record, with a marked one million work hours with no loss of time
Up and running
Once operational, the plant will employ about 25 people to operate it 24/7.
The site for WTP4 is a total of 92 acres, and about 50 of that have been developed so far for phase 1. At full build out, the site will sit on about 60 acres, Hill said.
He said there are some state-of-the-art aspects of the new facility.
“As we move toward the first part of completion, we will be rolling out different phases of educating folks about the project,” he said.