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The Journal Gazette

  • Photos by Scott Richardson | For The Journal Gazette A $24 million ultraviolet disinfection system was added to the Three Rivers Water Filtration Plant to help rid the drinking water of pathogens, particularly Cryptosporidium, which can make you sick if ingested.

  • Built in the 1930s on Baltes Avenue where the St. Joseph and St. Marys rivers converge, the filtration plant was also designed to be a landmark.

  • Several physical and chemical systems are used to clean the city’s drinking water that is taken from the St. Joseph River.

  • A pool in front of the filtration plant holds water in reserve. Most water used by residents occurs during weekday mornings.

  • Terri Richardson | The Journal Gazette Computer monitors help operators at the Three Rivers Water Filtration Plant ensure the correct water pressure and chemical balance.

  • Terri Richardson| The Journal Gazette Operators at the Three Rivers Water Filtration Plant can monitor computers to ensure the right water pressure and chemical balance.

  • Scott Richardson| The Journal Gazette The Three Rivers Water Filtration Plant's design includes high arches and ceilings.

Sunday, April 15, 2018 1:00 am

Behind the scenes

Keeping our water safe, clean

TERRI RICHARDSON | The Journal Gazette

If you go

City Utilities offers free guided tours of the Three Rivers Water Filtration Plant and the Water Pollution Control Plant. The next tours:

Three Rivers Filtration Plant,415 Baltes Ave.

• 10 a.m. to noon Saturday

• 10 a.m. to noon May 19

Water Pollution Control Plant, 2601 Dwenger Ave.

• 10 a.m. to noon May 12

Behind the scenes

This monthly feature offers a peek at what takes place during production at area events or organizations.

It's a good guess that when you got up this morning you washed your face, or took a shower and brushed your teeth. For many of us, that's the general routine to start our day.

I'm also guessing that you don't really think about where the water comes from each time you turn on the dishwasher or do a load of laundry.

But Fort Wayne residents only have to look to the St. Joseph River to find where their water supply begins. 

The river water is used by the Three Rivers Filtration Plant to supply residents with drinking water on a daily basis.

The plant is on Baltes Avenue, where the St. Joseph and St. Marys rivers meet to form the Maumee River. It was built in the 1930s, and the St. Joseph River was chosen because it was determined to have the most consistent flow and the cleanest of the city's rivers.

Of course, things have changed, which is why the plant is needed now more than ever for our drinking supply.

Vicky Zehr, water quality supervisor, is one of several employees explaining the filtration process to visitors on a chilly Saturday morning in March. It's part of a series of guided tours that the city offers residents so they can see how the plant works.

There also are tours of the Water Pollution Control Plant.

The original plant (it was added onto in the 1950s and again in the 1980s as the city's population grew) wasn't just designed with water filtration in mind but also to be a landmark.

It was built in the collegiate Gothic style and is covered in Indiana limestone. Ornate carvings on the corners of the building pay tribute to local wildlife and water features.

Inside, the hallways have large arches that open to high ceilings. 

Zehr, who has been at the plant for 28 years, says most of the water used by residents is in the morning Monday through Friday.

At the time of the tour, 37 million gallons of water had been used, but that could be down to 15 million gallons by the evening, Zehr says. During the lowest usage, employees can shut down the plant and do maintenance work, she says.

The plant has 38 employees, Zehr says, and operators are at the plant all day.

Computers allow the workers to monitor such things as how much water is being used, the chemical process and pressure.

Maintaining the pressure of the water is important, Zehr says. If the pressure drops too low, operators get worried.

That can happen in outlying areas of Fort Wayne as the water travels farther from the plant. At Union Chapel Road and the airport, the city has added booster stations and analyzers for the chemical process to help prevent pressure drops and changes in the water, Zehr says.

Water from the river can vary from season to season or day to day depending on the amount of rain that has fallen and other factors.

The city operates two dams on the St. Joseph River – one in Leo-Cedarville and one near IPFW – to create reservoirs, where water is held in case supplies run low or there is a drought.

The city also operates Hurshtown Reservoir near Grabill, which holds 1.8 billion gallons of water and acts as an emergency water supply for Fort Wayne.

Once the water is inside the plant, both physical and chemical processes are used to make the water safe to drink.

Part of that process is the addition about five years ago of new technology that treats the drinking water using ultraviolet light.

In 2013, the city decommissioned a pump room in the plant and spent $24 million to add an ultraviolet disinfection system, Zehr says. The system is used to control a pathogen called Cryptosporidium, which can make people sick if ingested.

It's all part of the process to maintain clean drinking water. After all, we aren't the only ones that are using the waterways for usage and disposal.

Zehr points out that Auburn's sewer and other pollutants from nearby communities come here and are deposited in the St. Marys River, while our stuff goes to Ohio.

“One man's trash is another man's treasure,” Zehr says, smiling.