CAPE MAY – The pioneering Cape May City water desalination plant is 25 years old and in need of revitalization. The equipment is aging and increasingly inefficient, the building is small, and the plant needs greater capacity to remove iron that is entering the water supply from one of its wells.
The plant, Cape May’s answer to saltwater intrusion in its wells, was constructed in 1995. It makes use of reverse osmosis (RO) technology to desalinate water from three wells that are all fed from the Atlantic City Sands Aquifer. A separate well fed by the Kirkwood-Cohansey Aquifer provides Cape May with a second water source that does not go through the plant’s two RO units.
Cape May City Council, soon after taking office in January, applied for and received a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) preliminary planning grant, which has covered the cost of development for a conceptual plan regarding the plant’s future. At its Dec. 7 meeting, the council heard the first reports on that plan, which should be formalized and submitted early in 2022.
CME Engineering, an engineering services consultancy with an office in Court House, is developing the technical plan. Also, part of the effort is Triad Associates, of Vineland, a company that specializes in helping communities secure funding for projects. The presentation to the council was led by former Assemblyman and state Sen. Nickolas Asselta, who has a Vineland-based consulting company, Aqua America.
Mayor Zack Mullock informed the public more than once that the services of the entire team working on the conceptual plan have been covered entirely by the USDA grant.
“The city has paid nothing,” he said.
The early stages of the plan call for the construction of a new plant facility, with the old plant to be demolished when the new one is ready to come online. The new facility would have three RO units. The plant would continue to rely on RO technology but would be upgraded to modern equipment that would increase efficiency. Electrical units would also be relocated away from the potentially damaging effects of the plant’s natural humidity.
In addition to revitalizing the RO equipment, the plan calls for the use of iron removal technology to deal with the presence of iron in the water pumped from the Cohansey Aquifer.
The search for greater efficiency will extend to the use of renewable energy sources like solar panels to reduce the expense for the high levels of power needed to run the RO units.
The Cape May plant provides fresh water to Cape May, West Cape May, Cape May Point, parts of Lower Township, and the U.S. Coast Guard Base. Mullock noted that part of the revitalization effort would have to include negotiations with each entity supported by the plant to secure longer-term contracts.
The revitalization effort has several goals. In addition to modernizing the aging technology at the desalination plant, the effort will increase the plant’s ability to meet growing demand, while also bringing the plant into compliance with state regulations. Currently, the plan is not compliant with state rules regarding meeting peak capacity if one of its wells was lost for any period of time.
While total cost estimates will not be available until the report is finalized in 2022, Triad told the council that the project aligns well with federal programs and should be able to lay claim to some of the funding flowing from the national $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill.
Earlier engineering studies by Mott MacDonald indicated that the full scope of the revitalization would need to include improvements in the water distribution system, as well. This was not a subject of discussion in the Dec. 7 presentation.
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