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Your water might taste better. That’s thanks to these updates at Riverside plant
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Gainesville holds an open house for the public Wednesday, March 27, 2019, at its newly completed Riverside Water Treatment Plant quality building. - photo by Scott Rogers

Does your city water taste better these days? Gainesville officials hope so.

It was a project more than three years in the making, but changes made at the city’s new water quality building at the Riverside Water Treatment Plant should improve the taste of city water.

Construction on the water quality building on Riverside Drive began in October 2015. The building, which has been in use since December, sits next door to the main water treatment plant.

Gainesville Water Resources serves much of Hall County and has two water treatment plants, one on Riverside and another on Jim Crow Road in Flowery Branch. The Riverside plant generally serves the northern part of Gainesville and Hall, although the two plants don’t have defined service boundaries.

The Riverside plant opened in the 1950s. Belinda Folkes, the plant’s assistant manager, said the facility was due for an upgrade.

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Belinda Folkes, Gainesville Water Treatment Aasistant plant manager, gives a tour of the city's newly completed Riverside Water Treatment Plant quality building. - photo by Scott Rogers

“At the time (it opened), that plant was state-of-the-art,” Folkes said, noting that since then it’s fallen behind the times. “It wasn’t so state-of-the-art until we built this.”

The new building includes some upgrades, including automating the water treatment process.

“We feed the chemicals in proportion to the flow. At some times of the day, we treat a lot more water than at other times of the day, or some days, we treat more than other days,” Linda MacGregor, director of Gainesville Water Resources, said. “The chemicals need to be regulated in proportion to the flow, so this facility does that all automatically by computer.”

Two operators monitor the system at all times. Folkes, who has worked at the plant for 18 years, said the new system has been more efficient and allows for more focused treatment.

“Before, we would set a pump and it would pump that same amount no matter what the flow did,” Folkes said. “… We can say we need to add 10 parts of alum to the water, it will always get 10 parts of alum, no matter what that flow does.”

The facility also uses chlorine dioxide to treat the water, helping prevent a strange taste that may come from algae blooms.

“Algae can create those particular tastes.” Folkes said. “... And chlorine dioxide is one of the chemicals that we use to control that.”

The new building allows the chemical to be used more effectively, Folkes said, which should leave Gainesville with better tasting water.

In early 2018, officials began treating the water with powdered activated carbon after some residents served by the plant said they were noticing a foul odor and taste in their water. The problem was a result of seasonal changes known as “lake turnover” — as the weather cools down, so does the water, causing it to sink to the bottom and the denser water to rise.

The switching of the layers of water can bring compounds that change the taste.

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Gainesville holds an open house Wednesday, March 27, 2019, at its newly completed Riverside Water Treatment Plant quality building. - photo by Scott Rogers

The new water quality building has also allowed for using liquid sodium hypochlorite to disinfect the water, rather than chlorine gas, a switch that Folkes said has made handling the chemicals safer.

“When we mix (sodium hypochlorite) down to that 6 percent, it’s actually weaker than the bleach you would buy off the store shelf,” Folkes said. “It will still bleach your clothes if you get a drop on you, but having this system over here, it’s safer handling all the chemicals.”

Another change should make the treatment plant quieter for people who live nearby. Lyme used to treat the water had been stored on the roof of the water treatment plant. Now, lyme is stored in its liquid form in a tank at the new water quality building.

“It had a mechanical shaker. It made a whole bunch of noise. That gizmo was not a good neighbor, so now we’re a much better neighbor because we don’t have that noisy thing up there anymore,” MacGregor said. “…My favorite picture of the project is of that thing that was up on the roof in the dumpster.”

The $12.5 million project was funded with water and sewer rate revenues, which are used to pay for day-to-day operations as well as new projects, MacGregor said.