New Infrastructure Means Fresh Life for Broken Arrow’s Broken Water System

  • Logan Layden
Construction underway on Broken Arrow's new water treatment plant taken in December 2012.

Logan Layden / StateImpact Oklahoma

Construction underway on Broken Arrow's new water treatment plant in December 2012.

It seemed like a good idea back in 1979: Broken Arrow, population 35,000 at the time, would pipe its water in from the Grand River, 27 miles away, and save some money over buying water from Tulsa.

Fast-forward 34 years and you find a city of over 100,000 relying on a single, quickly aging pipeline to meet its growing water needs. Add in a recent failure in the pipeline that forced business closures and a boil order, and it’s a formula for change, as the Tulsa World‘s Susan Hylton reports:

But the eggs-in-one-basket approach will be dropped when the city starts tapping its own primary water source on the Verdigris River and a secondary source via Tulsa which pulls from Eucha, Spavinaw and Oologah lakes.

The $63.8 million water treatment plant comes on line in July 2014 and the water line hooking into Tulsa’s water supply will be complete in August.

StateImpact has been following the construction at the new plant, and how it’s being funded, since late last year, before the power outage and subsequent break in the line. City engineer Kenny Schwab had hoped the old pipeline would hold up until the new plant comes online, but it didn’t quite make it:

“We need that water. We need that second source. We need that flexibility,” he said. “Water is precious. We found that out a couple of weeks ago.”

Had the new water plant and pump station been complete or the line to Tulsa available, there probably wouldn’t have been an emergency.

“We would have had more than one option to solve it, and it wouldn’t have been an issue,” Schwab said.

Not only is Broken Arrow adding more water supply options, it’s using state-of-the-art technology to do so. A ‘microfiltration membrane’ will be used, instead of sand filters:

The newer technology uses pressure to force water through a membrane, which looks like thousands of tiny fibers which have microscopic pores.

Viruses, which are larger than the pores, cannot pass through them.

“I try to think of it as a camel through the eye of a needle,” water plant superintendent Jimmy Helms said.

Broken Arrow will still use the old Grand River pipeline. It’ll have to, with the number of households in the city expected to double in the next 50 years.