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Spotlight tours water facilities

If the Clapper Road Water Treatment Plant is like a gleaming new cell phone, New Salem is like a clunky old rotary phone. They'll both accomplish pretty much the same thing, but one is far more versatile and advanced.

Despite enormous differences in equipment and process at the two plants, the basics are identical. Raw water is run through clarifiers and filters to remove particulate matter, chlorinated and sent out to holding tanks or into the town's pipes.

The product itself is also largely identical. Water from both plants meets the quality requirements for drinking water imposed by state and federal authorities.

But the machines at Clapper Road are more compact and efficient. New Salem's giant clarifiers and filters that need their own rooms are reduced down to a machine the length of a shuffleboard court that does both.

And if you ask the town employees which system is easier to work with, the answer is unequivocal. Like a classic car, New Salem's systems are temperamental and must be watched with a hawk eye if they are to function properly. The water output must be closely monitored so earlier steps in the process can be tinkered with. Filters working long beyond their common operating lifespan have to be handled gingerly lest they malfunction just last year, a rusted-out clarifier failed and cost the town more than $100,000 to repair. Such repair bills are common, and with the age of the equipment, the town sometimes has to bring in specialists and make extensive searches for replacement parts.

Going from zero to 2 million gallons per day of production at New Salem is a process that must be built up gradually over the course of about three weeks. Guessing when the summer peak will hit is a yearly exercise for staff there, an analysis involving graphs, trends and weather reports that is more like playing the stock market than an exact science.

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