Category Archives: Infrastructure Improvements

Development & Capacity Assurance Program

A Growing City Means Growing Treatment Plants

When you reflect on jobs that people are passionate about, wastewater treatment plant operators aren’t usually at the top of that list. However, the passion was palpable as I spoke with three employees at the Mallard Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant, which is currently undergoing updates and expansion due to our growing community. They have a deep understanding of the importance of the work they are doing in the community and how it contributes to the growth of the area and our current quality of life.

An architect’s rendering of the new influent pump station and equalization tank.

If growth in the area was allowed to outpace the development of the sewer infrastructure, it would cause a very messy problem for the city. Development can only occur where there is the infrastructure to support it. As the University area continues to grow quickly, the infrastructure must be built and updated to meet the increase in demand. Recent studies have shown that for every one million dollars Charlotte Water invests into its utilities and infrastructure, it leads to 17.7 million dollars in economic output. Investment in our infrastructure allows the kind of growth that protects our quality of life.

As such, the Mallard Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant has several updates and additions planned over the next eight years. The original facility was built in 1979 and has been expanded over time. The original buildings are still in operation, but some of the equipment and buildings need to be replaced. By updating the facility, the plant will grow and have increased capacity and efficiency. The current facility handles 12 million gallons per day, however, when all the updates are completed, the plant will be able to handle 16 million gallons per day!

One concern of an expanding wastewater treatment plant for many is the odor. One goal for the updates is to increase odor control so that the plant isn’t a nuisance. As many would imagine, before touring this wastewater treatment plant, I had mentally prepared for a strong odor throughout the facility. However, I was pleasantly surprised that the odor was mostly contained to the part of the facility where the wastewater entered untreated. Throughout the rest of the facility, I wouldn’t have known that I was standing so close to millions of gallons of wastewater.

This is where sewage is strained of larger pieces of garbage before entering the rest of the plant. This equipment is being replaced. It will be covered to help with odor control.
This is the pump house, built in 1979 with various changes made over the years. This building will also be replaced with new pumps and a new building to accommodate the new pumps.

These ad hoc additions over the years left the facility with a mismatch of equipment of assorted sizes and capacities. For example, right now there is an assortment of pumps that have been added over the years of all different sizes. This makes redundancy difficult. Redundancy is the ability of the other pumps to handle the extra flow when one pump is down for maintenance. By replacing the pumps with six new pumps that are all equal in size and capacity, the strain on individual pumps is lessened, and their capacity to handle maintenance issues is increased.

This is the day tank that assists the plant in managing capacity during times of fluctuating flows.

Another portion of this project is the equalization tanks that are being added. One that handles five million gallons and another that can hold 15 million gallons. Throughout the day and night, the flow of sewage coming into the plant varies; the equalization tanks hold flow during the higher flow times to even the flow into the plant. This reduces the strain on the equipment and makes testing more accurate. The smaller tank handles day-to-day variations while the larger tank handles large storms and flooding. These tanks also allow the plant to temporarily shut down sections of the plant for updates and maintenance.

The location of the new equalization tank. Charlotte Water and its contractors will be digging 65 feet under the ground to place the influent pump station which will be adjacent to the equalization tank.

Many systems and buildings within the plant will be touched by at least one phase of the project. There are four phases, with phase one being launched by the end of 2022. Most of the work of phase one will begin in 2023 with plans to be completed by the end of 2026. 

It is easy to ignore or not even consider how much work goes into keeping our city clean and sanitary for the more than one million people (and counting!) who live here. As we continue to grow, we are grateful for the City employees who plan for and accommodate the continued growth of our city. There is a lot of work that goes into planning and sustaining the foundation that keeps Charlotte running.

Charlotte Water invited to apply for competitive $169 million in funds from EPA WIFIA loan program

On December 3rd, the EPA announced that Charlotte Water’s $169 million Mallard Creek Sewer Basin Wastewater Collection and Treatment Improvements program achieved one of 39 new invitations to the competitive Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) loans program.

Charlotte Water is excited and proud to apply for funding under the EPA’s WIFIA program. Funding for Charlotte Water projects allows us to leverage rate payer fees to make critical improvements to our community’s aging infrastructure.

The EPA’s WIFIA program helps empower borrowers across the United States to achieve their infrastructure improvement goals through financial tools targeted at keeping rates affordable for large projects.

The Mallard Creek Sewer Basin Wastewater Collection and Treatment Improvements program is part of Charlotte Water’s five-year, $1.7 billion capital plan. This plan is part of the City’s Community Investment Program, or CIP, which appropriates dollars from specific funding sources for capital, or construction and
improvement projects. Charlotte Water’s CIP projects place Charlotte in a position to ensure local and regional growth. To learn more about Community Investment, please see our webpage.

Mallard Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant and Improvements

Charlotte Water plans to make infrastructure improvements to add capacity to the Mallard Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant over the next few years. The plant was built in 1979 and handles wastewater treatment for residents and businesses in the Mallard Creek and Back Creek basins.

In the past few years, the Mallard Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant has operated close to its allowed limit and is expected to exceed it by 2021. This is due to increased growth in the area aligned with the extension of the Blue Line from Uptown Charlotte to UNC Charlotte.

This project will increase the allowed limit to phased levels of expansion, expected to accommodate current and expected growth over the next three to 12 years. Expanding the capacity is critical in order to accommodate development in the area. Stay tuned about this and other capital improvement projects on our projects page.

Making Water Outages at Critical Care Facilities a Thing of the Past

In order to repair a broken water main, the location of the break has to be isolated by using pre-installed valves. There are 85,547 water main valves throughout our system. In most cases, this process requires us to turn off water access to nearby customers before working on a pressurized main. An inconvenience for some, but for others like critical care facilities, can be a matter of life or death. That is where a new insertion valve comes in.

The valve can be installed on an existing in-service main and allows us to perform maintenance or repairs without shutting down nearby blocks of the water distribution system.

Staff are currently being trained to install these special valves, and have already installed four in critical areas.

3 men in hard hats are in a hole in the road installing a valve
a group of men wearing hard hats and safety vests standing around a valve in the street
Crew 422 with Crew Chief Travis Cutherbertson and Delmond Cummings installing an insertion valve in Cornelius.

The goal is that at least one crew in every one of our four zones is trained on this specialized valve insertion process so that when a repair is needed near a critical facility, we can install the valve and eliminate the need for a water outage.

Labor Crew Chief and insertion valve project manager Delmond Cummings says, “These valves use fewer fittings, meaning less chance of leaks to the distribution system. The hydraulic integrity of this equipment helps reduce turning off residents or community water for extended periods of time for repair. With this training, employees learn new methods and technologies that upgrade/enhance their knowledge and skill level.

Though we can’t guarantee that a water outage won’t occur during a repair or routine maintenance of our distribution system, we hope that with the addition of these types of valves in our toolkit, we can minimize disruption to our customers.

This is just one of the many ways that our staff are working to improve the resiliency of a system that protects public health and the environment.

Flushing and the growth of the Queen City

Before cranes build the next skyscraper or apartment complex, developers must reach out to Charlotte Water to see if the wastewater infrastructure has the capacity for the increase in the-ahem-flow.

From the pipes that carry your wastewater to the treatment plants, to the plants themselves, they all have a specific amount of wastewater that they can hold and treat before the system gets overwhelmed. If a building with say 600 new units wants to be developed but our pipes couldn’t handle the extra waste then development halts until the capacity issue is resolved. This delay in construction is not good for business or the growth of our city, so that is where our Capacity Assurance Program comes in. Our highly trained engineers, who take projected growth and future developments into consideration, review the capacity of our entire system. In calendar year 2018 Charlotte Water received 391 separate requests, it is anticipated that there will be more than 600 requests by the end of 2019.

This isn’t something that we just eyeball, there is a science to it. We anticipate a specific number of gallons of wastewater will be produced from each particular type of development, as you can see below:

  • 190 gallons per day for each dwelling unit for single-family residential areas (including townhouses).
  • 135 gallons per day for each multi-family residential unit.
  • 25 gallons per employee/shift for office space.

This information helps our engineers know whether a new or redeveloped site can handle the increase in wastewater and respond appropriately to each developers request for access to the wastewater system. A major part of our capital budget, which is funded through water and sewer rates, goes towards increasing the capacity of our system.

Our staff works hard to make sure we anticipate growth and perform projects to increase capacity before development starts. Our recent wastewater project near Barringer Drive is a great example of upsizing pipes to fit new developments.

“This project is a success story,” said Angela Lee, Director of Charlotte Water.  “We were going to clean and install a new liner in the pipe. Before we started, the service area started to redevelop and we were able to quickly change course and upsize the pipe before major private developments started building vertically. This project is one of many that show our passion to serve the public and the ability to deliver on-time commitments to the community.”

The original wastewater pipes were eight to ten inches in diameter, the new pipes are now 18 or 24 inches in diameter. The total cost of the project was $2.5 million.

“While we installed the wastewater pipe, private developers were able to start their construction as well. Our new pipe was in service before the developments were completed.”

Charlotte Water has made sure the Capacity Assurance Program aligns with the development time frame from conception to completion to support rather than impede the growth of Charlotte.

For more information about other projects being done throughout Mecklenburg County to increase capacity,  and improve water quality and reliability visit our website.