Making the Neosho safe to drink

By ANNE KAZMIERCZAK
Register Reporter

Register/Anne Kazmierczak
Humboldt residents tour the city’s water treatment plant May 21. The plant processes up to 350,000 gallons of Neosho River water daily, transforming it into purified drinking water for the community. Plant superintendent John Hodgden stands in the doorway of the pumphouse.

HUMBOLDT — Unless you saw it before treatment, you’d never know the clear sparkling water that flows from Humboldt taps was once a murky green: the turbid Neosho River becomes Humboldt’s drinking supply.
During a tour of the water plant May 21, Superintendent John Hodgden said they intake 1,000 gallons a minute to process the 240,000-350,000 gallons of water used daily in Humboldt.
The plant has the capability to purify 1.4 million gallons per day should the town ever grow, he said.
In addition, the plant has 575,000 gallons of purified water stored: “Almost two days’ worth,” said Hodgden.
That storage came in handy during the 2007 flood.
“The water got into the bottom of our intake structure,” Hodgden said. It didn’t disrupt the system, “But the water quality was really poor,” he added. “It had a funny diesel smell to it and a sheen.”
Hodgden shut off intake to the plant and used stored water to keep Humboldt supplied during the time it took for the river to clear.
Stored water was credited with averting another mishap half a decade before the flood.
“In January of 2002, an ice storm decommissioned the plant for 2 1/2 days,” City Administrator Larry Tucker said. “Enough water was stored to keep the lines full.”
“We were lucky,” Hodgden said. If the lines had gone dry, much effort — and expense — would have been required to resupply Humboldt with drinking water. Since 2008 the plant has had two generators, up on concrete pads, that kick on automatically if needed.
To slake Humboldt’s thirst, water is pumped 45 feet up from the Neosho to the plant’s treatment basins. There, “a cationic aluminum polymer is added to bind with the dirt” in the river water, Hodgden said. Resulting particles settle at the bottom of the tanks.
“Every 15 minutes the sludge is sucked out of each basin,” Hodgden said. Eventually, it goes to the landfill.
To combat odors and other impurities, 50 pounds of activated carbon is added daily to the fluid.
“Carbon acts like a sponge,” Hodgden said. “It grabs anything that’s in the water and pulls it out.” The carbon also blocks sunlight, killing algae in the tanks.
Cleaner water is siphoned off the tops of the tanks and piped into the treatment plant. It is tested for copper, lead, chlorine, zinc and pH and is further filtered.
“We can backwash any part of the system to the ponds if any contaminant gets in,” Hodgden said.
Plant personnel test the water round the clock.
“Whenever the pump’s running, we take samples,” Hodgden said. One of the tests is for turbidity. Humboldt’s water tests about five times clearer than is required by state law.
After thorough filtering, chlorine is added. Thanks to a recent city council decision, fluoride will soon be added along with the chlorine. While the Neosho’s water naturally contains 0.14 PPM fluoride, Hodgden said, levels must be increased to 0.7 to 1.2 PPM to protect tooth enamel.
“We’ll test twice per shift to see what’s coming out,” Hodgden said. “If (ambient) fluoride goes up, we’ll be able to adjust our input accordingly.” Faucet filters will take out some of the added fluoride, he warned.
Tucker said the city has received a $400,000 Community Development Block Grant to replace eroded water delivery lines throughout the city. The old lines are primarily cast iron, and fall victim to dissolved minerals in the region’s water. Of primary concern is a major delivery line from the plant to the water tower on 10th Street, Hodgden said.
“We’ll be replacing most of these old lines with polymer plastic,” Tucker said. “Many of them are over 100 years old.”
The updates “will greatly reduce our maintenance costs and ensure infrastructure for the next 100 years,” Tucker said. “We want to make this place a better town for our children and grandchildren.”