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It is believed to be the most expensive project in the 176-year history of DeKalb County government. If it is successful, most residents never will notice the benefits of the work.
Within the next 30 days, the county hopes to start construction of its Scott Candler Water Filter plant, a $152 million project officials hope will increase the amount of drinking water treated each day and provide a more effective water cleansing process.
"We're trying to provide the most current treatment levels possible," said Margaret Howse, deputy director of operations for DeKalb's water and sewer department.
The project, scheduled to be completed by 2005, is being paid for by bond sales.
DeKalb County gets its water from the Chattahoochee River. For years, water has been pumped from the river to two reservoirs at the Scott Candler plant, located off Winters Chapel Road in Doraville. A third reservoir was built in May.
The current plant, which will be converted into office space and a maintenance area, handles an average of 87 million gallons of water a day. It can treat up to 128 million gallons a day.
The new plant will be equipped with advanced technology that will enable treatment of between 150 million and 200 million gallons a day.
County officials began preliminary engineering studies for the plant in 1994. The design phase began in 1997. In 1999 and 2001, the county sold bonds to pay for its construction.
In June, county commissioners agreed to hire Archer Western Contractors, an Atlanta-based company, to build the plant. The company has a good track record overall in metro Atlanta, but it's had some problems, too.
Archer Western began $36 million of improvements at Atlanta's Hemphill Water Treatment Plant in 1994. Construction fell behind schedule on the project, and the city found some structural problems. In 1999, the company agreed to pay Atlanta $4 million to fix the problems.
The new DeKalb plant is part of a multifaceted effort to improve the county's water treatment system. The county is planning to expand two reservoirs on the site to hold more water.
County officials also want to replace the station that pumps the water from the Chattahoochee to the reservoirs.
Water and sewer department officials are looking for an engineering firm to design the project. County officials said design and construction will take at least three years. The current cost estimate is $35 million.
The current water treatment plant was built in 1942, and at age 60, it is not well-equipped to treat organisms such as giardia and cryptosporidium, which can cause temporary sickness to small children and senior citizens.
The organisms are typically caused by animal waste seeping into the water supply.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has required that DeKalb's plants be able to kill such organisms by 2005.
Although county officials say the organisms are not in DeKalb's water supply, they'd prefer not to take any chances.
"If we don't do our job, there's going to come a time when maybe that won't happen," Rick Daniel, DeKalb's water and sewer division director, said of keeping a clean water supply.