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Partners in Pursuit of Safe Drinking Water in Kentucky

June 11, 2012 |

by Melissa Melton and Kimberly Padgett

Margaret Meade once said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

The City of Somerset and the South Anderson Water District in south-central Kentucky took Meade’s words to heart and made two nearly impossible infrastructure projects come to reality.

Somerset, located in the state’s 5th congressional district, provides its residents with quality, affordable drinking water. The city owns and operates its own water treatment plant and sells water wholesale to at least eight utilities within Pulaski and five other surrounding counties.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development (RD) program estimated that with 80 percent of water sold to other utilities serving rural populations, 110,000 people would benefit from a project to expand supplying water to surrounding areas. With the existing water treatment plant operating at 92 percent capacity, the need for expansion was urgent.

On Nov. 15, 2011, Somerset broke ground on an expansion to its water-treatment plant. It will include a 16-million gallons per day (expandable to 20 MGD) on-site, membrane-filter plant. The expansion will enable Somerset to better serve its customer base with an ample supply of safe drinking water while meeting all new and forthcoming water-quality standards. This $26 million project received a $14 million loan and a $6 million grant from RD with a local contribution of approximately $6 million.

In the neighboring 6th congressional district, the South Anderson Water District was originally formed to provide a dependable supply of potable water to the residents of southern Anderson County. Since its inception in 1967, the water district’s population has steadily grown. It now serves approximately 2,600 customers over a large portion of the entire county.

This project will basically accomplish South Anderson Water District’s goal of making treated water available to every resident within its service area as it extends service to the remaining 14 unserved roads within its boundaries.

The project includes a new booster pump station and elevated storage tank to serve the southeastern portion of the system. These facilities will enhance the service in this area, which has outgrown the capacities of the original booster pump station and standpipe. The new booster pump station has also been designed to provide 300 gallons per minute of wholesale water to the North Mercer Water District through an interconnection/master meter.

This $2.85 million project received $1 million from RD, $1.8 million from the Kentucky Infrastructure Authority, and $50,000 of local funds.

RCAP’s assistance was requested by both entities and by RD to ensure that all items on the Kentucky Processing Checklist were addressed for funding, implementation, and successful completion of the projects. In addition, RCAP prepared a vulnerability assessment, an emergency-response plan, and the respective certifications required by RD for the utilities to proceed with the construction bidding process for both projects.

Mayor Eddie Girdler and Chairman Eddie Stevens fully understand that a vital component of a successful project is teamwork. With earnest appreciation at each groundbreaking ceremony, they publically thanked Rep. Hal Rogers (R-5th District), Rep. Ben Chandler (D-6th District), USDA Rural Development, and RCAP for working together with the project’s leaders and engineers. This has been a group of dedicated partners who are bringing about positive change in their state.

Melton and Padgett both work for the Rural Community Assistance Program of Community Action Kentucky.

The City of Somerset’s drinking water plant was used in a national RCAP project that produced a web-based, interactive explanation of how drinking water is produced.

Melissa Melton, a Technical Assistance Provider for the Rural Community Assistance Program of Community Action Kentucky, has been working with Somerset on its infrastructure project (see main article).

As someone familiar with these communities, Melton also hosts a series of short videos that are part of the tool to educate non-technical audiences on how raw water becomes clean, safe drinking water for communities. The Somerset plant is the scene for many of the explanation of the steps in the treatment process.

The tool is available at www.rcap.org/dwwwtreatment. A companion section for wastewater treatment is also at that site. Both tools provide animated diagrams showing the steps of the water-treatment processes and pop-up videos in the diagram that offer further explanations of the individual steps.

Both tools are ideal for members of boards or councils that govern water systems in small communities or other community leaders. The tools are designed to give these lay audiences a better understanding of the knowledge and resources – skilled workers, facilities, natural resources – that go into treating water so decision-makers can make more informed decisions on the operation and management of their water systems.