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Kingsport to spend $15 million upgrading raw water intake system

December 15th, 2013 2:00 pm by Matthew Lane

Kingsport to spend $15 million upgrading raw water intake system

Kingsport's raw water intake

KINGSPORT — Raw water intake. It may sound a little technical, maybe confusing or unimportant, but the city of Kingsport is taking the matter seriously. The Model City plans to spend $15 million in the coming years on the issue, ensuring the raw water intake system is upgraded, modernized and not at risk for a critical failure.

In a nutshell, the raw water intake system is how Kingsport gets its roughly 15 million gallons of water a day from the Holston River — water flows from the river into a giant pipe and is then pumped over the cliff to the nearby water treatment plant off Konnarock Road.

The reason why Kingsport is looking to spend $15 million on upgrading the system is twofold, explains Public Works Director Ryan McReynolds.

“Inside the intake system, the equipment is pushing 35 to 40 years old and there needs to be work done to upgrade, modernize and replace that equipment,” McReynolds said. “The second foundational piece is...what would keep us from delivering water on a consistent basis to our customers.”

Kingsport's raw water intake system dates back to the 1920s. While improvements were made to the system in 1940s and 1970s, the system is fastened to a cliff with the water going through a tunnel 40 to 50 feet off the river. Kingsport actually had an issue in the late 1970s with the system, where people went two to three days without water.

Basically, a pipe attached to a cliff is probably not the most secure way for Kingsport to collect its water.

“The number one risk factor is our intake lines,” McReynolds said.

In light of the system's age and the risk factor involved in pumping water over a cliff, the city of Kingsport about two years ago began looking at the best way to address both issues.

The solution Kingsport came up with was to drill an eight-foot-wide flooded tunnel from the river, underneath the river level to the water plant, McReynolds said. Four caisson holes would be drilled at the water plant, tapping into the tunnel and then the water would be pumped into the facility for treatment.

“It's not going over the cliff. It's more reliable and the cost associated (with the project) would be similar to building a new asset at the river, but that would still be susceptible to the cliff issue,” McReynolds said.

Design work on this upgrade began back in the summer and at this point is about 30 percent complete. McReynolds said the city anticipates the design wrapping up in the late spring or early summer with work starting in the fall of 2014. Construction could take up to 18 months to complete.

To fund the project, Kingsport is in the process of applying to the State Revolving Loan Fund, which has an interest rate of 1 percent. McReynolds said the city should hear back about the loan by late winter or early spring. Kingsport has also applied for a $1.5 million economic development grant from the state for additional funding.

“What (the project) does is secure the reliability of Kingsport to supply water to the full system at a much higher level. Our hope is the average customer doesn't see a difference in the water supply, because we're trying to take care of an issue before it could happen,” McReynolds said. 

Every year Kingsport makes adjustments to its water and sewer rates for customers inside and outside the city limits, almost like cost of living increases. McReynolds said the state has reviewed the city's rate structure and notes the $15 million loan will fit within the existing rate structure and incremental increases without the need for a special rate increase.

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