WMEL water authority approves $30.5 million contract for Reverse Osmosis treatment system

The filtration plant built IN 2016 to help filter out chemicals in the West Morgan-East Lawrence Water Authority's supply.

LAWRENCE COUNTY, Ala.- The West Morgan East Lawrence (WMEL) Water and Sewer Authority reports it has approved a contract with a Florence construction company to build an advanced drinking water filtration system.

The water authority will pay B.H. Craig Construction Company $30.5 million for the construction of its Reverse Osmosis system, pending approval from the Alabama Department of Environmental Management.

In 2016, WMEL General Manager Don Sims told customers not to drink the water after unhealthy levels of perfluorinated chemicals were found in the drinking water.

WMEL sued 3M, the company that produced the chemical, to clean up this drinking water. After a three-and-a-half-year fight, 3M agreed to pay $35 million to settle the lawsuit. The authority received $28.5 million of that figure, with the balance going to costs, primarily attorneys’ fees.

The water authority has been researching a reverse osmosis treatment system for years.

The water authority applied for a 2.2 percent state loan with ADEM for $30 million to fund the installation of the water treatment system. The board previously approved the $28.5 million settlement from 3M to be used to pay down existing debt. Officials said in May that by doing it this way it costs the water authority less in the long run because of lower interest rates.

WMEL managers said on Thursday that customers’ bills will not increase due to the construction of the reverse osmosis.

The Environmental Protection Agency says the reverse osmosis is the most effective method for removing the chemicals in question from the drinking water. The water authority underwent a pilot process with the system in 2018.

“It’s basically only putting the pure water through,” Assistant General Manage Jeanice Slater told WHNT News 19 in May. “It takes all of your viruses — everything in the water — it takes it to a waste stream.”

The water authority intends to run that waste through the same carbon they currently use, so that means the water they put back in the Tennessee River will be much cleaner than what they took in.

“We want to be good stewards of our river too,” Slater said. “We don’t want to cause anybody downstream from us any problems. We just don’t.”

The Authority anticipates that construction will begin in October or November of 2019 with completion in early 2021.

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