Oak Ridge council to vote on DOE contract extension

water treatment plantUndated photo shows the Oak Ridge Water Treatment Plant on Pine Ridge adjacent to the Y-12 National Security Complex. (Y-12 photo)

Oak Ridge City Council will hold a special called meeting late this afternoon to vote on a proposed one-year extension of the city’s agreement with the U.S. Department of Energy to provide water to the Y-12 National Security Complex and Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

The city took over the former DOE water plant 15 years ago and provides potable water to the two federal facilities, in addition to the local community.

The aged facility is in need of repairs, and Oak Ridge City Manager Mark Watson said a contract extension will give the city more time to consider whether to build a new facility or engage in long-term and extensive repairs. Regardless, the existing facility on Pine Ridge near Y-12 will need some repairs in the next few years, he said.

“What the one year gives us is a little bit of reprieve from negotiations, allowing us to look at the general condition of the facility,” Watson said.

About 50 percent of the water plant’s production goes to the DOE sites, with the other half going to the community, he said.

Watson called the water plant a “key piece of infrastructure” for the DOE complex and the city, but it’s showing its age. Among the problem is a “small leakage” that’s in a bad place, he said.

“We’ve now used it for 70 years,” he said. “We’ve modernized it somewhat, but it’s still a 70-year-old plant.”

Watson said it’s not clear how the existing water plant would meet future needs, including the $6.5 billion Uranium Processing Facility that’s under development at Y-12 and scheduled to come online around 2025.

DOE transferred ownership of the water plant to the city in April 2000.

John Shewairy, DOE’s assistant manager for administration in Oak Ridge, said the current contract between the city and the federal agency is due to expire on Thursday.

Over the past five years, DOE’s water use has ranged from 1.9 billion gallons in 2011 to 1.4 billion gallons last year, Shewairy said.

“On average, the monthly bill — which covers all of the cost factors for the city operating the water treatment plant — has been about $180,000,” he said.

Shewairy said DOE’s payment includes the city’s cost to produce potable water and deliver it to a distribution point. At that point, DOE distributes the water throughout its sites using its own state-licensed systems, he said.

Asked if DOE was being asked to help pay for repairs at the old facility, Shewairy said, “DOE, like any other ratepayer, contributes to the costs for the operation of the water treatment plant.

That includes, but is not limited to, routine maintenance of the water treatment plant, labor costs, utilities, chemicals/supplies.”

He also said DOE provides funding for capital repairs or upgrades.

“However,” Shewairy said, “since ORNL and Y-12 are not on the city’s distribution system, DOE’s contributions are limited to improvements at the water treatment plant.”

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About Frank Munger

Senior Writer Frank Munger covers the Dept. of Energy's Oak Ridge facilities and many related topics — nuclear weapons, nuclear waste and other things nuclear, environmental cleanup and science of all sorts. Atomic City Underground is, first and foremost, a news blog, but there's room for analysis, opinion and random thoughts that have no place else to go.