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Treatment plant nears opening

December 19, 2000

Jennifer Kho

COSTA MESA -- After a delay of a couple of months, a new treatment

plant will begin pumping water -- and eventually saving customers money

-- in about two weeks, officials said Monday.

Mesa Consolidated Water District Operations Manager Jerry Baldwin said

the plant, the first of its kind -- and size -- in the world, is in its

last testing stage.

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"Everything is working fine so far," he said. "We have a lot of things

to test. We're now testing the controls, all the safeguards and the

operational valves in the facility. The facility will be run by a

state-of-the-art computer system, with safeguards in place to shut it

down in case of any problems. We're going to work out any bugs [to avoid]

putting them into the system."

The water district has worked for 16 years to clear up colored water

-- high-quality underground water that has a "weak tea" color and a

sulfur-like smell -- to its customers.

The treatment plant will use an ozone and biofiltration process to

remove the color and smell from the colored water, which is found in

aquifers between 600 and 1,200 feet deep.

Originally scheduled to open in September, then October, the

completion of the plant was postponed because of design changes --

including adding a well and improving the filters -- to double the

capacity of the plant, said Baldwin and water board President Trudy

Ohlig-Hall.

The colored-water treatment facility -- originally planned to handle

up to 4,000 gallons per minute, enough to meet the needs of the city --

will be capable of pumping out 8,000 gallons per minute if the district

decides to supply the treated colored water to areas outside of Costa

Mesa in the future, Baldwin said.

Water districts are normally only allowed to pump 75% of its water

from underground aquifers, but the Orange County Water District in

October granted Mesa Consolidated permission to pump up to 100% because

the additional 25% will be colored water, which no other county water

district uses now.

Mesa Consolidated's plan to substitute treated colored water for

imported water will not lower rates immediately but should keep them

stable when surrounding districts' water bills rise, said Lynette Round,

a Mesa Consolidated spokeswoman.

Treated colored water costs about $320 per acre foot, less than

imported water, which averages $450, but more expensive than regular

ground water, which averages $157, said Ron Wildermuth, a spokesman for

the Orange County Water District.

In Southern California, an acre-foot of water is enough to supply two

average families with water for a year.

Aside from the fiscal benefits, the colored-water plant will also

protect the district from a water shortage, Ohlig-Hall said.

"We won't need to import water, even during droughts," she said. "It's

our own resource, plus it's excellent water."

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