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Issues of the Environment: 10-year, $100-million Ann Arbor water treatment plant project getting underway

Glen Wiczoric, Senior Utilities Engineer at the Ann Arbor Water Treatment Plant.
City of Ann Arbor
Glen Wiczoric, Senior Utilities Engineer at the Ann Arbor Water Treatment Plant.


  • Ann Arbor’s aging water treatment facility will be incrementally replaced and renovated over the next 10 years. The project is one of the most substantial infrastructure improvements Ann Arbor has undertaken and is estimated to cost $100 million. 
  • Nearly 85% of the water treated at the plant comes from the Huron River, and 15% is provided by multiple wells. The raw water must first be softened, removing excess calcium, magnesium, and iron. From there, the water is further refined. The plant must also be able to cope with removing PFAS, dioxane, and other emerging chemical contaminants, as well as cryptosporidium, a parasite which can cause diarrhea.
  • Construction on Ann Arbor’s water treatment pilot plant began in February, and it will open this summer. The purpose of this scaled down, temporary plant is to test new water softening technologies to determine which one is best suited to delivering an end product that is as pure as possible.
  • The mini test-plant won’t deliver water to customers. Instead, pilot testing will compare the results of different approaches to soften the water - namely single-stage softening process versus two-stage softening process used by the city at the existing full-scale water treatment plant. Softening removes calcium and magnesium hardness from water. Once pilot testing is complete, WTP staff will decide which technology will be used going forward. To copy or mimic treatment at the full-scale facility, additional treatment steps are included in the pilot plant after softening, including ozonation and filtration. This allows WTP staff to observe if or how the different softening processes affect downstream treatment provided at the plant. (Source: *directly quoted* https://www.a2gov.org/departments/water/pages/article.aspx?i=31)
  • The city is partnering with students from the University of Michigan Civil and Environmental Engineering who will operate the test plant and report the results. In February, the city approved $450,000 for the partnership, which ultimately saves Ann Arbor money. The pilot plant is expected to be ready in May and will start operation by June. The entire project will last approximately a year and will include preparing reports during the summer of 2024. (Source: *directly quoted* https://cee.engin.umich.edu/2023/03/02/u-m-cee-collaborates-with-the-city-of-ann-arbor-aecom-on-pilot-water-plant/)
  • To celebrate National Drinking Water Week (May 7-13, 2023), the water treatment plant located on Sunset Road, will host15-minute tours on May 6th from 10-2pm, space is limited. (Source: *directly quoted* https://www.a2gov.org/departments/water-treatment/Pages/Drinking-Water-Week.aspx#:~:text=On%20May%206%2C%202023%20from,be%20capped%20at%2015%20participants.)


David Fair: This is 89 one WEMU on Wednesday, May 24th. Ann Arbor's water treatment plant is going to be in stages of improvement over the next decade. In fact, it is one of the most substantial infrastructure improvements the city has ever taken on. I'm David Fair, and I'd like to welcome you to this week's edition of Issues of the Environment. As you might imagine, there's a hefty price tag that comes with this project. Today, we're going to get a look at how the project will unfold and what the investment will do for you. Our guest is Glen Wiczoric, and Glen is the senior utilities engineer at the Ann Arbor Water Treatment Plant. And, Glen, I thank you for your time, and I certainly hope I pronounce your last name right.

Glen Wiczoric: You did. Thank you very much. It's a pleasure to be here.

David Fair: Well, you know, earlier this month, we marked National Drinking Water Day. And just kind of from a broad and personal perspective, why do you believe Ann Arbor drinking water is something to be celebrated?

Glen Wiczoric: Oh, boy. Thank you. Yes, the Drinking Water week was a great event for us That kicks off a lot of our public engagement--public engagement that we tied to the reference project in the introduction of your program here. It's a reason to celebrate. You know, we hear it directly from our customers. We hear it in our public engagement efforts. We hear it in the surveys that we issued. We hear it through our outreach. And, incidentally, we just had an open house at the water treatment plant last Saturday in a continuation of the Drinking Water week. We hear continuously from our customers that they so greatly appreciate the reliability and the accountability and the trust and the transparency that we share with our customers.

David Fair: I'll only speak for myself. I often take for granted that I have access to safe drinking water. A lot goes into making sure that happens that I don't think about when I turn on the tap. How long into your career did it take for you to gain a greater appreciation for clean water?

Glen Wiczoric: I am a native of Michigan. I grew up in and around the Great Lakes, and for those native Michiganders, it's such a fantastic resource to have. We have an abundance of water, an abundance of great, clean, reliable drinking water. And the appreciation is hopefully not lost on all of us.

David Fair: Well, there are always certainly threats to the health and safety of our water. The Flint lead crisis comes to mind. That's still being dealt with locally. We have the one-four dioxane from the old Gelman facility creeping towards the Huron River and Barton Pond. The Huron River is in the midst of a PFAS crisis because of a release of the Forever chemicals by Tribar Manufacturing in Wixom. That same company caused a scare last year with the potential release of hexavalent chromium that, fortunately, did not make it way to our area. We are dealing with cryptosporidium. That's another threat that you've been dealing with certain treatments. Before we get looking ahead into what this new infrastructure project is going to do, how prepared is the water treatment facility at this juncture to deal with all of that?

Glen Wiczoric: The city is outstandingly prepared. In a brief overview, PFAS, for example, you know, we have already demonstrated compliance with the regulations using our existing infrastructure to meet the new lowered regulations from the EPA. So, we are already in a position of delivering water with none detect readings of PFAS in our finished drinking water. The cryptosporidium--we already have U.V. installed at our water treatment plant, and the new project is going to further expand on that or provide capacity for additional flows moving into the future. The one-four dioxane--our project is also looking at technologies to destroy the one-four dioxane if it ever does reach our raw water source. So, you may know that we the city has sentinel wells positioned to monitor the progress of the plume.

David Fair: I'd like to look ahead to what is going to happen over this coming summer as we start to really make the project move forward and get it in place. 89 one WEMU's Issues of the Environment and our conversation with Ann Arbor Water Treatment Plant, senior utilities engineer Glen Wiczoric continues. A phase of the long-term project actually started in February. That's construction on a pilot plant, a small pilot plant. It's opening this summer. Now, this plant, Glen, is not going to deliver water to Ann Arbor residents. So, what will be its function?

Glen Wiczoric: Yes, thank you. A pilot plant--it is a small scale model of our treatment plant. By small scale, I mean about 1000 square feet. It will house equipment skids, matching our processes on a smaller scale. So, we'll be treating a flow of about 150 gallons a minute looking at processes that we use, like softening and recombination, disinfection and filtration. What this pilot plant is going to do is it allows us to test our recommendations and our new equipment prior to investing in the significant funds of a permanent installation. This new technology, it has the potential of saving millions of dollars in a smaller footprint. A smaller footprint can result in reserved space for future treatment needs as regulations evolve over time.

David Fair: So, ultimately, it will test and then provide you best practices to put forward into the larger in facility you ultimately will use.

Glen Wiczoric: Correct.

David Fair: How long is it going to take you before we come to a conclusion on a process that will ultimately be adopted and integrated fully for the future?

Glen Wiczoric: Piloting is a typical requirement. For example, we're working closely with the State of Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy. They are looking for a 12-month pilot period, and the purpose of that is to test its operations through all seasonal variations of water temperatures and water qualities. So, in response to a schedule, if you will, we're looking at 12 months of piloting, followed by analysis of the data development of final recommendations. And, ultimately, you know, a finished report may be on the order of two years from now.

David Fair: We are talking about upgrades to the Ann Arbor Water Treatment Plant with Glen Wiczoric on WEMU's Issues of the Environment. He serves as senior utilities engineer at the Ann Arbor Water Treatment Plant. Again, this is a ten-year, $100 million plan. And, you know, Glen, a lot can happen in ten years. Threats to water safety may evolve. Technologies will certainly improve over the period of a decade. So, how do you go about allowing for those evolutions while, all at the same time, planning and constructing?

Glen Wiczoric: Right. Not only ten years, but our forecasted window for this project is perhaps in excess of 50 years. So, we are are making significant improvements for generations to come. And in doing so, you know, our efforts need to forecast and make projections 50 years out--for example, population growth and water demands. It needs to account for flexibility. For example, you know, instead of chromium, what if there's some other spill? You know, are we positioned to provide reliable and resilient water treatment with flexibility, with conservative assumptions, and being positioned for 50 years out?

David Fair: 50 years seems like a long time. But, over the course of history, it's not really that long. So, this is a significant investment. What is going to be maintenance on this kind of facility for the next 50 years to make sure that it serves us in the best possible manner?

Glen Wiczoric: The city does execute an asset management program. And in doing so, it is continually, annually evaluating the condition of its infrastructure and its utilities. And that starts to define our capital improvement program for repairs, for maintenance, preventative work, instead of corrective emergency repairs. These are all things to continually upkeep our treatment plant in tough working condition.

David Fair: In the final analysis, do you assess the future of Ann Arbor water to run clear?

Glen Wiczoric: Absolutely, yes. Yes. There is no question in our mind that this project, for example, with the 50-year outlook, with the projections and the reliability is the focus. This is a major effort that represents the city's forethought and preparedness looking now and into the future.

David Fair: Well, again, as I mentioned, the pilot plant project will be operational over the summer. And, again, that's going to be a 12-month project. So, let's plan on talking again next year and see where we are.

Glen Wiczoric: That sounds great. I look forward to it.

David Fair: Thank you both for the time and the information today. Glen. I appreciate it.

Glen Wiczoric: Very good. Thank you.

David Fair: That is Glen Wiczoric. He is senior utilities engineer at the Ann Arbor Water Treatment Plant and our guest on Issues of the Environment. This is a weekly feature produced in partnership with the office of the Washtenaw County Water Resources Commissioner. We bring it to you every Wednesday. For more information on today's discussion, visit our website at your convenience at WEMU dot org. I'm David Fair, and this is your community NPR station, 89-1 WEMU FM Ypsilanti.

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Contact David: dfair@emich.edu
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