How do you slash a water treatment energy bill? A project in Pueblo will use water to make power too

Joe Cervi/Pueblo Water
Workers install giant pipes that will bring water into the Kevin F. McCarthy Hydroelectric Powerplant currently under construction onsite at the Whitlock Treatment Facility in Pueblo.

It takes a lot of electricity to run municipal water systems, but a new hydroelectric plant under construction in Pueblo is designed to help cut some of those energy costs.

Pueblo gets its drinking water from the Arkansas River, which is fed into the utility’s system through giant pipes under high pressure. Currently, the water flows through specialized equipment and valves that slow it down and dissipate the pressure before it’s piped into the initial treatment ponds.

On a recent tour of the facility, Pueblo Water Director of Operations Matt Trujillo noted the noise and vibration — a sign of wasted energy the utility plans to tap to generate power. “We'll run it through our new hydro facility,” he said. “It'll take the water, generate electricity on site, and then put the water back in for our production.”

Matt Trujillo/Pueblo Water
The smaller of two turbines manufactured for Pueblo Water's new hydroelectric powerplant is shown at an assembly plant near Udine, Italy, in 2021. It and a larger unit will be installed onsite in the new hydroelectric plant at the utility's Whitlock Treatment Facility later this year."

As much as 62 million gallons of water a day could move through the new hydroelectric plant when it is completed next year. The estimated $10 million project calls for two turbines, a larger one-megawatt unit to handle high water flows and a smaller half-megawatt unit for lower wintertime flows.

Pueblo Water
The new hydroelectric plant at Pueblo Water's Whitlock Treatment Facility will have two turbines. A large one-megawatt unit for high water flows and smaller unit to handle lower wintertime flow.

Trujillo said the system will generate 835 kilowatts of power, which will help meet a portion of the utility's electricity requirements.

“We're trying to shave our peak demand,” he said. “So we'll have special equipment in place to make sure that power is not pushed back on the grid, but it'll be used internally here on the site.”

When it opens, the power project will be known as the Kevin F. McCarthy Hydroelectric Powerplant. McCarthy served on the utility’s board for more than three decades before his death in 2019.

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