ROCHELLE — As the city nears the startup date of the new radium removal plant, designs for a second facility are already underway.
The plant, which is located at Well 11 near Rochelle Township High School, is the first of its kind for Rochelle. The well had been taken out of service due to radium levels that exceeded the maximum contaminant level (MCL), prompting construction of the plant.
As the target online date of July 30 approaches, city officials are beginning the process all over again — this time for Well 12 located at Steward and Hayes Roads, which was issued a violation notice in April of this year for exceeding radium levels.
The reason for the exceeding radium levels is really not clear, according to Adam Lanning, Supt. of Water/Water Reclamation. Communities surrounding Rochelle were forced to build radium removal plants years ago by the IEPA.
Lanning explained the city of Dixon has radium removal plants at each of their five wells.
“I’ve visited numerous facilities in the area — DeKalb, Sycamore, Rockford, Dixon — they all have radium filter plants. Radium is pretty common in Northern Illinois and the East Coast, and we are not sure why,” Lanning said. “We can’t control it, it’s naturally occurring. All we can do is build filter plants to take it out. We hired Illinois State University to study it, try and find out why, and where it might be coming from. There are a couple of theories out there but they will need to be tested.”
How it works
The process of extracting radium requires several steps as the water makes its way through the plant.
From 900 feet below the surface, water at Well 11 is first directed to a pre-chlorination process to oxidize iron. Naturally occurring iron is in a dissolved form and by oxidizing the iron it turns to rust and allows it to be filtered out. The water is then directed to a tank with hydrous manganese oxide (HMO), which binds to the radium and is filtered much the same as the iron is.
After the chlorination and HMO the water goes through a sand filter — picture a giant pool filter — and then to the final step to add chlorine as well as fluoride and polyphosphate before being returned to the main supply.
The City of Rochelle has a total of five wells: Well 4 is located near the overpass,
Well 8 is on Caron Road, Well 10 is in the Southview neighborhood on the city’s southern side, Well 11 is near RTHS, and Well 12 is located at Steward and Hayes Roads.
All wells are drilled to approximately 900 feet with the exception of Well 4, which is approximately 1,450 feet.
Lanning explained that several operators and lab technicians conduct testing daily throughout the distribution system. Thirty locations around the city have been determined as designated test sites with 10 of them tested each day for a month. The operators then switch every month between the 30.
“By shifting the testing locations every month, this gives us a good snapshot,” Lanning said. “We test for chlorine, fluoride, polyphosphate, iron, pH, among other things.”
Well 11 plant price tag
The city expects to begin its first loan payment in 2019 for the radium removal plant. At just a little over $3.4 million and a loan forgiveness of $500,000, the annual payment on the 20 year loan works out to about $162,000.
Jeff Fiegenschuh, City Manager, explained the loan agreement and terms for Well 12 (Steward and Hayes Roads) would not be available until the project is bid and an application is filed for a loan.
“The annual payment [for Well 11] was built into the most recent rate increase…we are hopeful that the loan terms [for Well 12] will be similar to Well 11,” Fiegenschuh said. “If the loan terms for Well 12 are similar to 11 then we don’t necessarily have to increase rates for the annual payment, although a small increase should be considered.”
Lanning said next year the city plans to start designs to construct a new well house at Well 4. Looking ahead, as wells are being rebuilt, designs for a radium removal plant will be included.
“If a radium removal plant is needed, the designs would be started and a footprint would be there to construct a filter plant if ever needed. It’s the best we can do…we can’t build one without a problem, but making sure we are able to build one on that location is important.”
Permits for Well 12’s radium removal plant should be obtained in about a year with construction expected to begin late spring or early summer of 2019. Target date for the plant becoming online is sometime in the spring or summer of 2020.
Lanning said predicting radium’s origination is not easy and often drilling deeper to avoid it doesn’t always work.
He answered a question that gets asked frequently as of late — Who missed the radium problem when the wells were in the design process?
“Nobody missed it, we didn’t have radium issues. We tested the levels when they drilled for the wells and the radium was not high. It’s just recently came up,” Lanning said. “The levels were low…we’ve been testing since the early 2000s and these levels didn’t start showing until 2016.”