SAXMAN — City of Saxman water operator Richard Shields beams as he walks through the new, nine-years-in-the-making surface water treatment facility, describing its state-of-the-art capabilities amidst the whirr of machinery.
If the water quality ever dips below a certain level, “(the computerized plant will) call me. It’ll call me consistently,” he said Wednesday afternoon, describing the system’s protocol to phone him at any hour. If the computer can’t reach Shields after several phone calls, it will call the assistant operator, then Saxman City Administrator Leona Haffner.
Shields jokingly offered to program a Daily News reporter’s cellphone to receive alerts as well.
After nine years and more than $5.3 million in state and federal grant funds, Saxman’s water treatment facility and connected water main system is complete. Haffner said the plant was needed because the Environmental Protection Agency said Saxman, like Ketchikan, had to do something about its unacceptably high level of haloacetic acids and other disinfection byproducts.
Long-term exposure to disinfection byproducts has been linked to an increased risk of cancer, the EPA says.
Shields and Haffner led a Daily News reporter and photographer through the facility Wednesday, ahead of its public grand opening at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday. The plant is located on Dog Salmon Avenue, just up the hill from the Saxman City Hall and Community Center.
The facility is brightly lit, and filled with large metal tanks, pipes, equipment and more than one touch-screen computer console. The facility is all-digital, Shields said. In fact, in the event of mechanical problems, the engineers behind the magnetic ion exchange system used at the facility — called MIEX — can consult with Shields remotely.
Haffner said Saxman is the first city in Alaska to use the MIEX process, which was installed with help from the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium. The new facility was built two years ago but took that long to get approval, “work out the kinks” and get Shields comfortable with using it.
Saxman now uses a combination of MIEX and chlorination to treat its water.
The system draws raw water from an approximately 2 million gallon reservoir “back behind the mountains here,” Shields said. The water flows through pipes into the MIEX chamber.
Because the water is negatively charged, and the MIEX resin has a positive charge, the resin “collects organics that you and I can’t see, holds them together, and it stays inside the system here,” he said.
About a third of the resin is continually “regenerated” in a separate chamber, where brine is used to strip the organic matter off of the resin before it’s returned to the contactor.
“It’s kind of like a washing machine,” Shields said.
The resin lasts two years before needing to be resupplied by a company in Colorado. Haffner said the resin’s two-year lifespan helps the city “save substantially on costs of the resin and chemicals that have to go into the system.”
Shields held out a scoop of the resin, which appeared as orange sludge. The resin actually is iron, he said. Without water, “it just turns into dust.”
He was quick to say that the unappetizing goop remains at the treatment facility.
“None of this stuff gets to the customer. It all stays inside here,” he said.
Shields said chlorine was used as a secondary disinfection measure, but that usage has been reduced. With the new MIEX system, the amount of chlorine the city will have to use will be quartered, from 20 barrels of chlorine a year to five.
With the new system, the City of Saxman — with a population of around 430 people — can hold about 800,000 gallons of treated water at a time, and Shields said it can produce up to 200 gallons a minute, in the event of an emergency.
With so few people and so much water, Haffner said Saxman was considering “branching out into surrounding areas,” selling water to neighboring Ketchikan Gateway Borough service areas, which would require the construction of more water mains.
In the meantime, the City of Saxman has invited the public to come celebrate the grand opening.
The festivities will begin, rain or shine, at 1:30 p.m. on?Saturday at the facility, located at 728 Dog Salmon Ave. There will be Alaska Native dancers at the event, and two red cedar carvings located outside the plant — created by local?carver Kelly White — will be dedicated.
After the dedication, there will be speaker presentations and refreshments served at the Saxman Community Center.
Information from: Ketchikan (Alaska) Daily News, http://www.ketchikandailynews.com