RO plant expansion moves forward

Published 4:57 pm Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Smithfield is moving forward with plans to expand its reverse osmosis water treatment plant.

On Jan. 6, the Town Council voted unanimously with two absent to start the process for renewing Smithfield’s state groundwater withdrawal permit, and to commission a preliminary engineering report for the scope of the expansion project.

The permit application is due to Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality this November. It would take effect in 2023, and remain in place for the next 15 years.

Last year, Smithfield paid the engineering firm Kimley-Horn roughly $10,000 to create a plan for expanding the town’s plant beyond its current capacity of 1.5 million gallons per day. According to Town Manager Michael Stallings, the expansion would provide redundancy as well as capacity for the town’s future growth.

Specifically, it would add a second reverse osmosis skid, which is what actually removes contaminants from the water, allowing for uninterrupted service if the other skid needs to be taken offline for maintenance.

The preliminary engineering report is “the next step in the process,” said Public Works Director Jack Reed.

This would develop the scope of work for the design and construction of the new skid and would also identify the additional automation required to operate the new equipment, he added.

In 2020, Isle of Wight County negotiated with Smithfield to buy water from the town to supply a planned replacement Hardy Elementary School and the surrounding area, which Reed had estimated in 2021 would increase the demand on the town’s RO plant by an additional 414,000 gallons per day, or roughly 40%. But, according to Stallings, the expansion project is not directly connected to the agreement.

“It was going to be needed anyway,” Stallings said.

As of last year, the recommended RO plant improvements carried an estimated cost of more than $1 million, but an exact total has yet to be determined.

According to the recorded minutes for the Town Council’s Dec. 27 water and sewer committee meeting, the new withdrawal permit — which entails justifying the amount of water requested, providing an alternative source water analysis and developing a water conservation management and mitigation plan — was initially to be outsourced entirely to Kimley-Horn at a cost of $25,620. But Smithfield has since negotiated an hourly rate of support, where the majority of the permit application process will be handled by town staff. The support agreement will reduce the estimated cost to $5,000, with those funds only being needed if the town requires Kimley-Horn’s support on the application.