White Plains Membrane Plant: A Tale of Perseverance


  • Joseph J. Nicoletti, Jr. PE, Brian Murphy - City of White Plains, NY
  • Anni Luck PE, Kristen Barrett PE - Hazen and Sawyer

White Plains was one of the first municipalities in the Northeast to adopt membranes for surface water treatment in the mid-1990s. This paper will review the overcoming of challenges and lessons learned over the past two decades, from piloting and commissioning of the original plant in the mid-90s to now retrofitting and upgrading of the plant in 2014. Topics will include initial public outreach efforts, challenges faced with operational staff training and changing raw water quality issues over time, and valuable lessons learned from piloting, operations, and studies conducted over the years.

Lured in by the minimal footprint and man power requirements, but cautious of being one of the very first to implement a technology whose track-record was only just building-up in the US, the City conducted a six month pilot study. Though the pilot demonstrated the relative ease of system operation and lack of sludge handling requirements as compared to traditional filtration plants, it brought to light the importance of pairing the correct cleaning agent to target site specific raw water characteristics. Seven different cleaning agents were tested both separately and in varying combinations during the pilot study. In the end, a back-to-back acid followed by caustic cleaning regiment was prescribed to prevent the fouling of the membranes by inorganic silicates found in the raw water.

Satisfied with the six month pilot results, the City proceeded with constructing the full-scale facility and in the spring of 1999 the new membrane plant was fully operational with the ability to treat up to 1.6 MGD of the City’s own reservoir water. The commissioning of the membrane plant came at an opportune time to supplement the City’s primary supply (average 8 MGD) purchased from New York City. Over the years, excess usage surcharge had increased rapidly as result of the City’s water consumption in excess of NYC’s per capital usage. Commissioning of the membrane plant was well received as it helped curtailed peak demands and the reduction in annual surcharge fees meant the City was well on its way of recouping the emotional and monetary investment made in constructing the new plant, growing pains of public outreach and training of operational staff.

However as with all good tales, new challenges arose over the years including unforeseen changes in source water quality that led to the decommissioning of the plant in 2006. This paper will review the studies conducted to determine the cause of the membrane failure and the steps taken by the City to bring the system back online. Benefits and challenges of maximizing the re-use of existing equipment where appropriate while retrofitting the system with the latest membrane technology and improving operational ease will also be reviewed.

For more information, please contact the author at aluck@hazenandsawyer.com.

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