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 included on the board of trustees agenda for Wednesday, Superintendent Sid Hazelton confirmed the Auburn Water District has been looking into federal funding that would pay part of the design costs.
He said the trustees directed him this past fall to make the request to the Maine Drinking Water Program, which has a revolving loan fund that will forgive part of the principal. In Auburn’s case, the loan would likely forgive $500,000, turning a $2.5 million design project to $2 million.
On Wednesday, the trustees will decide whether Hazelton will move forward with the request.
The discussion over a filtration plant at Lake Auburn has ramped up in recent years as concerns over water quality have led to a larger debate over development and recreation at the lake, which is the public drinking water source for Lewiston and Auburn.
The Water District has held a waiver of filtration since 1991 that allows it to treat the 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.
For the last several 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 when it does. Others believe the health of the lake should be prioritized by limiting development in the watershed and through other protections, avoiding the construction of a costly filtration plant.
Hazelton said the state’s revolving loan fund has an increased level of funding from the American Rescue Plan Act, and that the trustees were interested in having a “shovel ready” design for a filtration plant in the event one is needed.
“It’s plans in case the lake quality deteriorates in the future and, God forbid, we lose the waiver, we would then have plans where we could expedite construction if we had to,” he said Monday.
The state program ranks applications based on a variety of factors, ultimately deciding how much principal is forgiven on the loans. Hazelton said Auburn’s application “scored quite high,” meaning 20% of the loan would be forgiven.
If the water district were to move forward, he said a pilot program would be created to test which type of filtration system would be needed at the lake. During past discussions, Hazelton has said that estimates have put construction of a filtration plant around $40 million.
Hazelton said the trustees also asked that he reach out to Lewiston to gauge support from officials there. While Lewiston staff told him that design for a filtration plant is included in its long-term capital planning, it is not currently considered a top priority.
When the federal relief funds were announced for Lewiston and Auburn last year, Mayor Jason Levesque floated the idea of the cities pooling funds to tackle the filtration plan. He believes 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 pursue the plans now.
The move could occur as Auburn considers several changes to watershed rules, including an updated septic design standard, as well as a related fight over regulations in the city’s agricultural zone, which abuts the watershed.
The Auburn Water District board of trustees meeting is at 4 p.m. Wednesday at the Androscoggin Valley Council of Governments, 125 Manley Road.
Please check your email to confirm and complete your registration.
Use the form below to reset your password. When you’ve submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.
Photo: Out with the old, in with the Olive Garden
Lawmakers urged to prohibit discrimination based on natural hairstyles