An artist rendering of the drinking water treatment facility to be built in Biddeford. Construction will begin soon. Courtesy photo

BIDDEFORD — In mid-January, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection granted the final of all necessary permits to Maine Water for a new water treatment facility. Construction of the Saco River Drinking Water Treatment Facility, on South Street in Biddeford, will begin soon, according to a March 2 press release from the company.

Construction is expected to be completed in spring 2022, according to the release.

The permit from the Maine DEP was the last hurdle before beginning construction. Maine Water also needed and received final site plan approval by the Biddeford Planning Board — which was granted in November — as well as approvals from the Saco River Corridor Commission, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention — that agency has purview over public drinking water systems.

The new, 36,000-square-foot facility will be located uphill from the current water treatment facility, also in Biddeford, which began operation in 1884 and had its last treatment process overhaul in 1936.

“There really hasn’t been a major improvement in the facility in over 80 years,” Maine Water President Rick Knowlton said in an prior interview.

An outside engineering study determined it would be cheaper to build a new facility than renovate the existing building and bring it up to current code standards.

“Engineering studies have confirmed that building a new treatment facility is a cost-effective alternative to renovating the existing facility over a 50-year planning horizon. Maine Water is committed to investing in our communities and providing the infrastructure necessary for sustainable, reliable, high-quality water service,” Knowlton said recently.

The company began upgrading water lines after its purchase of the former Biddeford and Saco Water Company in 2012.

In addition, “moving the facility out of the floodplain of the Saco River eliminates the risk of flooding,” according to the release, “which has occurred several times in the history of the current facility, leaving customers without water service for extended periods.

“Relocating the treatment facility will make the water system more resilient to climate events, and the new facility will feature fully automated treatment systems that will use less energy and less chemicals, reducing operating costs and improving efficiency.”

“The design and approval process for the new water treatment facility has brought forward a project aimed at providing the next century of water service to the Biddeford and Saco service area,” said Knowlton. “While the current facility continues to produce water that meets all federal and state standards, a significant upgrade is long overdue.”

Water will continue to be drawn from the Saco River to a pump station, which then pumps the water up to the new facility.

In October, Connecticut Water Service, the parent company of Maine Water, completed a merger with SWJ Group, based in California. The SWJ Group has committed to continued capital investments of more than $200 million in the water systems across the combined operations, with some of this funding specifically earmarked for the Biddeford project, said Knowlton.

However, ratepayers will also have to foot some of the bill.

Although no rate increases will take place over the next year, Knowlton said previously, rate increases will be coming to pay for the new investment in the system.

“Maine Water has been working through the design and financing of the project to minimize the cost impact of the new treatment facility on customers and will work with the Maine Public Utilities Commission and the Maine Office of Public Advocate to explore opportunities to phase in a necessary rate increase over time,” according to the release. “As part of the project and in conjunction with moving the facility across South Street, Maine Water will conserve over 250 acres of open space around the facility to further protect the Saco River and preserve wetlands and natural habitat on water company land.”

Maine Water serves about 16,000 customers, representing about 40,000 residents, in the Biddeford and Saco area, which includes Old Orchard Beach and the Pine Point section of Scarborough.

Maine Water serves 32,000 customers, or a population of 100,000, in over 20 communities throughout Maine. For more information, visit www.MaineWater.com.

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