Water officials may pursue design of Lake Auburn filtration plant


AUBURN — The Auburn Water District could move forward this week with plans to pursue a $2 million design for a water filtration plant at Lake Auburn.

After the item was placed on Wednesday’s board meeting agenda, Superintendent Sid Hazelton confirmed that the Auburn Water District was exploring federal funding that would pay for a portion of the design costs.

He said trustees asked him last fall to apply to Maine’s clean water program, which has a revolving loan fund that will forgive some of the principal. In Auburn’s case, the loan would likely wipe out $500,000, turning a $2.5 million design project into $2 million.

On Wednesday, administrators will decide whether Hazelton will go ahead with the request.

Discussion of a filtration plant at Lake Auburn has intensified in recent years as concerns over water quality have led to a broader debate over development and recreation at the lake, which is the public source of water. drinking water for Lewiston and Auburn.

The Water District has held a filtration waiver since 1991 that allows it to treat water with ultraviolet light and other means without having to pay to filter it. But it must continue to meet certain water quality standards to maintain the waiver.

In recent years, some have argued that it’s only a matter of time before Auburn loses the waiver, and that the district should be prepared for that time. Others believe the health of the lake should be prioritized by limiting development in the watershed and through other protections, avoiding the construction of an expensive filtration plant.

Hazelton said the state’s revolving loan fund is benefiting from an increased level of funding from the U.S. Bailout Act and directors want to have a “shovel-ready” design for a filtration plant in the in case one is needed.

“These are plans in case the quality of the lake deteriorates in the future and, God forbid, we lose the waiver, then we would have plans where we could speed up construction if we had to,” a- he said on Monday.

The state program ranks applications based on various factors, ultimately deciding the amount of principal that is forgiven on loans. Hazelton said Auburn’s request “scored pretty high,” meaning 20% ​​of the loan would be forfeited.

If the water district were to move forward, he said a pilot program would be created to test the type of filtration system that would be needed at the lake. In past discussions, Hazelton said estimates put the construction of a filtration plant at around $40 million.

Hazelton said administrators also asked him to contact Lewiston to gauge support from officials there. While Lewiston staff have told him that the design of a filtration plant is included in its long-term capital planning, it is not currently considered a top priority.

When federal relief funds were announced for Lewiston and Auburn last year, Mayor Jason Levesque floated the idea of ​​cities pooling funds to tackle the filtration plan. He thinks one will be needed due to climate change, regardless of watershed protection efforts.

Levesque said Monday that with more federal infrastructure funding now available, it’s “extremely smart” for the water district to press ahead with the plans now.

The move could come as Auburn considers several changes to the watershed rules, including an updated septic design standard, as well as a related fight over regulations in the city’s agricultural zone, which adjoins the basin. pouring.

The Auburn Water District Board meeting will be held Wednesday at 4 p.m. at the Androscoggin Valley Council of Governments, 125 Manley Road.

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