Pedal to the Metal

The city of Leominster meets regulatory deadlines with a four-point plan to protect its watershed, manage water sources, improve treatment and upgrade distribution
Pedal to the Metal

Interested in Education/Training?

Get Education/Training articles, news and videos right in your inbox! Sign up now.

Education/Training + Get Alerts

The City of Leominster (pronounced “Leminster”) Department of Public Works has been working for more than a decade on systemwide improvements to its infrastructure while keeping water rates low.

However, the city took a double whammy in 2006: upcoming federal water regulations and a state consent order. The department has kept pace on a grueling schedule by forging alliances with public and private entities and taking advantage of its own resources in a demonstration of traditional New England self-reliance.

The city of 41,000 is about 40 miles northwest of Boston and 10 miles south of the New Hampshire border. Its water system produces an average of 4.2 mgd and a maximum of 6.9 mgd, distributed through more than 179 miles of water mains.

The city owns four water treatment facilities, operated, managed and maintained by Veolia Water North America since 1996. The department operates the water distribution system. Veolia had operated the wastewater treatment plant since 1983, one of the oldest such contracts in the country.


Double deadlines

The twin regulatory deadlines accelerated the city’s action plan for its water system. Leominster financed an extensive study of the system in the mid-1990s and embarked on a systemwide, four-pronged approach to secure a safe water supply at a reasonable cost, targeting watershed areas, reservoirs, water treatment systems and the distribution system all at once.

The years from 1997 to 2006 involved significant capital improvements, including dam and spillway modifications and upgrades to treatment plants, storage tanks and pumping stations. The department also inspected, cleaned and painted the system’s four water storage tanks. Water mains were being replaced at about two miles per year, a dig-and-replace process that began in the early ‘80s.

“The city has existed for almost 300 years, and our water department began operations in 1873,” says Pat LaPointe, director of the Department of Public Works. “The original water mains were largely the wooden pipes you see in places like Boston, but about 20 years later, the best product on the market was cast iron. A lot of cast iron was installed from the early 1900s to 1960, so we have about 60 percent cast iron, and the rest is cement-lined ductile iron.”


Better raw water

With state assistance, the city purchased and protected 925 acres of watershed land, helping to secure the quality of its raw water sources. At the end of 2005, the department had made significant upgrades while holding water rates in check. The clock was reset in 2006.

January of that year saw the introduction of the U.S. EPA’s Long Term 2 Enhanced Surface Water Treatment Rule (LT2) and the Stage 2 Disinfectants and Disinfection By-Products Rule (Stage 2 DBPR). The city must comply with the new, stricter federal regulations by October 2013.

That July, the city was hit with an administrative consent order (ACO) issued by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). It required updates to the city’s Watershed Resource Protection Plan, Emergency Response Plan and Water Quality Master Plan. It also required upgrades to its Fall Brook and Notown water treatment plants, upgrades to the Southeast Corner Wellfield, and construction of a new filtration plant at its Distributing Reservoir, all to be completed by the end of 2011.

The city ran into another wrinkle in the fourth quarter of 2006 when it exceeded federal regulations for total trihalomethanes (TTHMs), hitting roughly 81 parts per billion (ppb) versus a maximum allowable level of 80 ppb.

“The regulatory limit was exceeded at our Notown treatment facility because we were fixing the Simonds Pond dam, and the water behind the cofferdam became more difficult for the older plant to treat,” notes LaPointe. The city asked that the associated consent order be rolled into the larger ACO.


Crunch time

“Suddenly, it became crunch time as we had to work to meet all of these deadlines at once, while continuing work on our overall system improvement plan,” says LaPointe. “Rather than look at it as a problem, we looked at the consent order as a friend. The work may have to be completed on a tight schedule, but it’s necessary work. It also depoliticizes the process of getting water rates to match the work that needs to be done.”

The department began to reassess the overall water strategy, enlisting the aid of long-time private collaborators: the engineering firm Woodard & Curran and operator Veolia Water.

“We took a hard look at everything that needed to be done, looking at the system as a whole,” says LaPointe. “To help achieve watershed protection and protect the quality of the water, for example, we hired a forester to develop a forestry management plan. Part of that plan involved removing trees damaged by severe ice storms and harvesting the hardwoods for lumber and turning other wood into fuel pellets and mulch. If there was a way to offset costs, we would try to find it.”

Integral to the process was the financial oversight of Roger Brooks, business manager with the DPW. “From my perspective, the plan had to be comprehensive,” he says. “If you look at water as a resource, you have to include watershed protection, treatment, transmission and distribution to commercial and residential customers. Improving the quality of water is looked at as something negative when it involves an increase in cost, even though U.S. tap water is about the best bargain in town. The endgame is keeping rates reasonable while making improvements. It’s a balancing act.”

The department opted to continue its water main replacement program, targeting two miles of pipe replacement each year, focused first on the oldest lines in established neighborhoods, particularly segments marked by main breaks and customer complaints.


Digging through records

LaPointe made extensive use of town records to assemble a history of distribution system development. “We have a pretty good record of what was done after the mid-1980s, but we needed to go back to old annual reports to see what sort of repairs were performed on the mains before that,” he says.

“Right now we’re in the second-oldest part of the city, having completed the oldest part. The biggest problem we’re seeing is heavy tuberculation, with 6-inch lines reduced to 2- or 3-inch capacity. Compounded with cast-iron house services from the curb, it makes the reduced capacity problem worse.”

The project relies largely on dig-and-replace. Old lines are replaced by cement-lined ductile iron. Residential lines are replaced with copper to the property line. The work is done by water department staff and contractors. Whenever possible, in-house staff does the work at rates about half the price of contractors. “Our guys go to classes to get their water licenses, and they’re very good at the work they do,” says LaPointe.


Old and new

Meanwhile, water plants and other facilities needed attention. In 2006, the city shut down its Fall Brook Treatment Plant when elevated manganese from the raw source discolored the water.

“The water quality wasn’t satisfactory and the color was of concern to customers,” notes LaPointe. “We worked with Woodard & Curran to devise a low-cost solution by extending the potassium permanganate and hydroxide feed line to a point further upstream in the intake pipe to provide improved contact times. No more complaints.”

The ACO required the city to build a new filtration plant at its Distributing Reservoir — until recently, that source of supply had operated under a state-issued filtration waiver. The cost of the 2.0 mgd plant was estimated at about $10 million. However, under special state legislation that allowed Leominster to enter into the original contract with Veolia Water, the city was free to offer Veolia a design-build contract.

“In traditional bids, we don’t always get the best contractor, but the one offering the lowest initial bid,” says Brooks. “We were able to work with Veolia on a list of preferred contractors and allowed them to accept tenders on the work. The final costs for the plant came in at $6.7 million, so we saved money, met the regulatory criteria, and had a functional building, ready for any future upgrades.”


Automation saves

The filtration plant was planned with automation and remote monitoring in mind. The same thinking applied to a temporary chlorination system at the Southeast Corner Wellfield, improvements to the Fall Brook, and upgrades at several water tanks. The new systems are tied into the city’s SCADA system, which includes wastewater operations.

“We’re planning for the future here,” says LaPointe. “Anything that reduces site visits will reduce long-term operating costs.”

The department also used a creative approach to meeting TTHM guidelines, breaking down its goals into phases, first blending the Notown water with compliant water from its Fallbrook plant to help bring citywide averages into compliance with Stage 1 DBPR.

“However, at that point we still hadn’t completed the upgrades to the Notown plant, which will be required to meet Stage 2 DBPR requirements by 2013,” says LaPointe. “That will require us to meet the 80 ppb threshold at each individual location. We tried to add a coagulant at Notown, but higher feed rates negatively affected our filters, so we looked at clarification to help remove organic compounds at Notown.”


Accessing funds

Grants and low-interest loans from federal and state sources have become important to the department. The city received a low-interest state revolving loan of $19.2 million for completion of multiple projects in the consent order. A portion of the funding qualified for American Recovery and Reinvestment Act assistance, which provided principal forgiveness on the loan.

The city also received a $7,500 capital improvement grant from the DEP to provide a long-term planning document for future capital improvements to the water system. State government officials work closely with the city to help position loan and grant applications.

“We were alerted by people at the state government, for example, that we could access a Housing and Urban Development grant by making the project fit the requirements, because it led to an improvement to service for affordable housing,” says Brooks. “A little creativity ultimately benefits the ratepayers.”

In the near future, the department is considering trenchless technologies to rehabilitate and replace waterlines, especially where they cross Route 2, a busy thoroughfare. “Closing Route 2 would be impossible,” says LaPointe. “We’d like to line those mains, but we tried a cured-in-place process on one of the more difficult crossings last year and it didn’t work as well as the process did on some of our sewer lines. We’re also considering directional drilling and pipe bursting.”

The department is also looking at the purchase of an in-house camera system to inspect sewer lines. As it heads for the ACO finish line at the end of the year, Leominster is well under way on construction of major upgrades to the Notown plant and the Southeast Corner Wellfield and is working on modifications to the Monoosnoc Hill Tank Distribution System.


Effective partnership

“The secret behind the extraordinary progress in Leominster is the close relationship between the city administration, the department, its engineers, its operators and the regulators,” says Robert S. Little, P.E., senior project manager at Woodard & Curran.

“The DEP is allowed by statute to take a certain amount of time to review and approve design plans and permit applications, but they’ve turned things around very quickly and helped Leominster to frame projects in such a way as to access state and federal grants, programs and funds. The city council holds the purse strings, but they’ve been very supportive of the department in its upgrades. This is a collaborative effort by all parties and it’s been very successful.

“Even while rapidly performing capital upgrades and maintaining regulatory compliance, water rates in Leominster are lower than in 75 percent of the state. That’s the true measure of a well-managed system.”


Comments on this site are submitted by users and are not endorsed by nor do they reflect the views or opinions of COLE Publishing, Inc. Comments are moderated before being posted.