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Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette
Wayne Emery of Calgon Carbon details how its UV disinfection treatment system works to Northrop High School engineering students before a dedication ceremony Thursday.

Mayor offers toast as UV water flows

– Mayor Tom Henry held his champagne glass high while architecture from the 1930s soared around him Thursday and toasted the element that has been key to life since the beginning of time: clean water.

In Fort Wayne, that clean water now comes to our taps through cutting-edge technology: ultraviolet light.

The toast – sadly the glasses were filled with city water, not sparkling wine – came as officials dedicated the massive, $22 million project to add UV disinfection to the city’s arsenal against harmful organisms in city water.

“This new UV system is an investment in the future,” Henry said at the Three Rivers Filtration Plant. “It adds an additional layer of disinfection and will give us flexibility to meet further regulations that may come along.”

In 2006, the federal Environmental Protection Agency introduced a drinking water regulation requiring municipal systems that use surface water instead of well water to add additional disinfection to prevent cryptosporidium and giardia. In 1993, cryptosporidium in Milwaukee’s water supply killed 69 people and sickened hundreds of thousands.

Fort Wayne has never had an issue with cryptosporidium, officials said, but in 2009 the EPA told the city it would have to comply with the new rule anyway.

After years of study and design and nearly two years of construction – 25 local companies worked on the project – the system went online this month. Huge pipes carry water past nine high-intensity ultraviolet bulbs on its way to the massive pumps that send it into the municipal water system.

Calgon Carbon’s Wayne Emery said the system works because the ultraviolet light breaks the shells of organisms in the water and disrupts their DNA so they cannot reproduce.

In humans, ultraviolet light from the sun can disrupt the DNA in our skin cells, causing them to reproduce uncontrollably, causing skin cancer.

Calgon Carbon builds the UV system Fort Wayne uses.

Fort Wayne, which gets its water from the St. Joseph River, still uses chlorine for disinfection but now can use far less of it, City Utilities’ Matthew Wirtz said.

“We chose this for its simple, safe and reliable operation,” Wirtz said. “We can treat to a significantly higher level of protection while reducing the amount of chemicals used at the plant.”

The Three Rivers Filtration Plant can produce up to 72 million gallons of drinking water a day.