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New London - The city's water authority will spend millions of dollars over the next few years to improve a system that annually pumps 2 billion gallons of drinking water to 45,000 customers in New London and Waterford.
The water department is spending about $250,000 to replace a pipe across Alewife Cove and to hire a consultant to put together a 20-year capital improvement plan to keep 210 miles of pipes, four pumping stations and six water storage tanks in working order.
But the biggest project to date is installing a new intake pump in Lake Konomoc at a cost of $5.1 million. The project will draw an additional 366 million gallons of water from deep within the reservoir off Route 85 in Waterford. An additional $500,000 will pay for construction administration, including a full-time inspector who will oversee the project.
"Water is the most crucial commodity there is," said Barry Weiner, chairman of the Water & Water Pollution Control Authority. "Our forefathers were wise enough to start the system and purchase Lake Konomoc. This authority is very adamant about leaving it better than when we had it."
In 1942, according to an article in The Day about an expansion of Lake Konomoc, the lake had a capacity of 160 million gallons. Today, the capacity is 1.2 billion gallons.
The Lake Konomoc project includes a concrete building that will be partially submerged, with two "very large vacuum primed pumps," according to Joseph Lanzafame, director of Public Utilities. The new equipment will be able to pump additional water that is so deep in the reservoir that the existing pumps and pipes can't reach it.
"It's a very unique project," Lanzafame said, adding that it will be the first of its kind in the area. "These pumps are custom made for this project."
The extra water will add to the water supply during a severe drought, when the surface elevation in the 363-acre lake is lower than the existing intake pipe. Tapping into the new water source will increase the volume of "usable storage" in the reservoir, Lanzafame said, increasing the safe yield of the reservoir and reducing the frequency of drought advisories.
"It will give us access to water we can't reach," he said.
The project will take 15 to 18 months to complete.
The majority of the project will be funded with a low-interest loan through the Connecticut Department of Public Health Drinking Water State Revolving Fund. The loan, with a 2 percent interest rate, will be paid back over 20 years. The state is also expected to reimburse 5 percent of the costs. The cost are figured into regular water rates.
The Alewife Cove project includes replacing a water pipe that connects Highland Avenue in New London to Peninsular Avenue in Waterford. The pipe failed about 10 years ago and was never replaced, creating deadends in the system where water can pool.
The new pipe will create a loop in the water system, which Weiner said will increase water quality for the area.
"The system works better when it loops," he said. "The water will be constantly moving in the pipe and there will be no stagnation."
The capital plan includes hiring consultants to assess the system and prioritize what needs to be done. All the water lines, sewer pipes, pump stations and the treatment plant will be inspected.
The project began several years ago when the water department completed a state-mandated inspection of the system using cameras, Lanzafame said.
"We realized we needed a comprehensive plan," he said.
Weiner said the exercise will help avoid having to make emergency repairs, which can be costly. The authority will be able to plan for work and adjust rates accordingly to pay for it.
"We want to be proactive and not reactive," he said.
In June, officials from New London and East Lyme broke ground for a project that will carry water from Lake Konomoc along Routes 85 and 161 to East Lyme.
Under the plan, expected to be completed in May, East Lyme will send water to the reservoir from fall to mid-May and then New London will send the stored water back to the town for the summer months when the demand is higher. East Lyme residents approved the $10.9 million to pay for the project in 2011.