This rendering shows what the new Saco River Drinking Water Facility, to serve Biddeford, Saco, Old Orchard Beach and part of Scarborough, will look like when it is completed in 2022. Courtesy photo

BIDDEFORD — On Thursday, July 30, Maine Water hosted a virtual ground breaking on the new Saco River Drinking Water Treatment Facility. The new treatment facility, scheduled to become operational in 2022, will replace the existing water treatment facility which was built in 1884 and serves the southern Maine communities of Biddeford, Saco, Old Orchard Beach, and the Pine Point area of Scarborough 

“The Saco River Drinking Water Treatment Facility is a major improvement to the water infrastructure of southern Maine,” said Rick Knowlton,  president of Maine Water. “While the current plant has continued to meet all state and federal water quality and safety guidelines, it is one of oldest water treatment facilities in the country.

“Estimates to renovate and maintain the existing facility confirm that a new facility is actually less expensive to own and operate over the next 50 years,” he said. “The new Saco River Drinking Water Treatment Facility is not only a smart investment from a public health perspective, but from a financial perspective, and we are excited to play a part in continuing to improve this water system and deliver reliable local infrastructure.”

The new water treatment facility will be located on South Street in Biddeford, across the street from Maine Water’s existing treatment facility. As part of the project, more than 250 acres of forest land will be preserved to provide the community with access to open space, to protect the Saco River source and to preserve valuable wetland habitat, according to a Maine Water press release. The new location also allows Maine Water to move the drinking water facility out of the Saco River flood plain, which eliminates the risk of disruptions from flooding.

In accordance with state guidelines as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, Maine Water celebrated the groundbreaking of the new facility virtually on July 30. The celebration video – which premiered on Maine Water’s Facebook page – featured prominent elected officials and business leaders including: Biddeford Mayor Alan Casavant, Saco Mayor William Doyle, U. S. Senator Angus King, Maine Water President Rick Knowlton and Jim Salerno, senior project manager, MWH Constructors.

“For hundreds of years, people who lived in this area relied on the Saco River for sustainability and the local economy,” Casavant said. “Today is no different. Biddeford is seeing a remarkable revitalization with a lot of local invesment, but to do that we need a strong and secure and healthy infrastructure.

“Maine Water has been delivering that for a number of years,” he said. “Biddeford is really proud to host this major investment by Maine Water.”

Like his counterpart on the other side of the river, Doyle emphasized the importance of the river in the life of the community of Saco.

The Saco River has and continues “to play a pivotal role in our community’s desirability for economic growth, vast recreational opportunities and a high quality of life for our community members,” he said. “Saco is committed to essential water infrastructure for clean water for drinking and wastewater services. These anchor institutions are vital for high quality of life, public health and safety, environmental sustainability and economic growth.”

King praised the building of the new facility.

“It is some time in coming … so this  is a great project for Biddeford and Saco,” he said. “It’s going to mean a lot to the community and I want to congratulate (Maine Water) for the perseverance, for the vision, for the hard work to get to this day.”

To view the video, visit:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=acMfcdDuXfs&feature=youtu.be

Construction of the facility is expected to generate approximately 150 jobs through the spring of 2022 when the facility is schedule to be finished, and maintain seven permanent jobs upon completion.

The total cost of the project is over $50 million. Maine Water will look to recover that cost in customers’ water rates over the next 50 years, consistent with Maine Public Utilities Commission practice to spread utility construction costs over the useful life of a facility. Cost effective design has controlled the initial construction price tag and will deliver operating efficiencies going forward, according to the release. Company officials say they will propose a rate recovery strategy to the MPUC that seeks to manage the impact on customer bills.

“This new water treatment facility in Biddeford is a major investment of local infrastructure,” Knowlton said. “When we’re done, yes water rates will have to increase, but at the end of this project we will still be able to deliver to our customers an abundant supply of clean drinking water for about a penny a gallon.”

The cost of drinking water to the typical residential customer will be about just over $1 a day, according to the release..

The Saco River Drinking Water Treatment Facility has been approved by all federal, state, and local regulatory bodies, including Maine DEP, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the City of Biddeford and Saco River Corridor Commission. The facility is expected to be fully operational by the spring of 2022.

“This facility is an investment in the next century of service to Biddeford, Saco, Old Orchard Beach and the Pine Point area of Scarborough,” Knowlton said.

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