June. 24, 2009 — The V.I. Water and Power Authority cranked up a new 1.5-million-gallon per day salt-water reverse osmosis plant this week at St. Croix's Estate Richmond power plant.
WAPA, joined by Gov. John deJongh Jr. and executives from Seven Seas Water, the plant's makers, cut the ribbon on the Winnebago-sized water factory at WAPA's Estate Richmond power plant Wednesday morning.
"I know it is not the most complicated project we've ever undertaken," said Juanita Young, chairwoman of WAPA's governing board, during the preliminary ceremonies. "But I think this may be the first one to come in both under budget and early," she said.
WAPA is leasing the plant from Seven Seas for $367,000. (See "WAPA Moves To Get Boiler Up And Running.") One of WAPA's several steam-based desalination plants on St. Croix needed a major overhaul and was gradually becoming less and less productive, WAPA Executive Director Hugo Hodge Jr. said. Instead of producing 1.2 million to 1.5 million gallons of potable water a day, it was producing only about 600,000 to 800,000 gallons.
"We had just enough production capacity to meet demand and at that point, you are going to have to start rationing and conserving," he said.
Taking the plant offline for an overhaul would result in water shortages until the work was done. The new unit produces enough so WAPA can take each of its units offline one at a time for overhauling, he said.
And while WAPA's existing water distillation units are tied to the plant's oil-fired steam boilers, making them petroleum-dependent, this reverse osmosis unit is powered by an electric high-pressure pump and will work with any form of power generation.
DeJongh praised Hodge for moving toward water production that isn't dependent on fossil fuels.
WAPA and Seven Seas Water Corporation broke ground on the plant Feb. 2, and its performance test was commissioned April 29. The project was completed in 87 calendar days from ground-breaking to full plant production, a world record for this large a reverse osmosis plant, according to WAPA. It ran successfully immediately, producing more water than targeted at greater purity than required by WAPA and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. If the reverse osmosis technology works reliably and is cost effective over time, WAPA can purchase the plant at a depreciated cost after the lease expires.
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