BUCHANAN – If anything, Tom Middlecamp was able to breathe a sigh of relief Friday afternoon.

No, the Town of Buchanan’s war on cryptosporidium is not over, but that’s only because the final financial arrangements for fighting the war are left to be figuratively signed, and with it the peace treaty.

Buchanan Mayor Tom Middlecamp stands next to the Pal Aria Water Treatment System that was needed to get the town off the Boil Water Notice issued at the end of March 2009.
Buchanan Mayor Tom Middlecamp stands next to the Pal Aria Water Treatment System that was needed to get the town off the Boil Water Notice issued at the end of March 2009.

But, town water customers were advised they are free to drink their water again without worrying about boiling it before hand. That’s because the Health Department and the town officially lifted the Boil Water Notice Friday morning—a notice that was imposed 17 months ago when Mayor Middlecamp, Town Council and the rest of the community found out what cryptosporidium is, or at least what the threat of it is.

Friday morning, Virginia Department of Health Director of Public Drinking water Dr. Wes Kleene joined Buchanan officials, county officials and regional Health Department officials in a ribbon cutting ceremony to officially open and dedicate the micro-filtration water plant that strips cryptosporidium and its worrisome symptoms from getting into the Buchanan water supply.

The water filtration plant on Red Horse Lane  is likely to become a model for other small communities like Buchanan that are faced with the prospects of surface water getting into their municipal wells.

During the ribbon cutting, the water filtration plant was named for the Buchanan mayor for “his dedicated commitment to the planning and implementation of the Buchanan water filtration plant.”

The Tom Middlecamp Water Filtration Plant, in a way, serves as a testament to the kind of work it takes being mayor of a small town.

To say it’s been a grueling year for the mayor is an understatement. From the day the Health Department announced it was placing the town on a Boil Water Notice until Friday’s ceremony, Middlecamp spent countless hours  working with the town’s consulting and engineering firm, Health Department officials, Rural Water officials,  a concerned public, restaurant owners, contractors and anyone else involved with the ins and outs of getting the town off the Boil Water Notice.

In larger communities, a town manager or administrator would have handled the day-to-day chores that Middlecamp found himself in the middle of.

In small towns, those administrative duties, the phone calls, letters, faxes, emails, meetings and frustration fall on the essentially volunteer mayor’s shoulders.

Even though the micro-filtration plant is up and running, the work’s still not done. Middlecamp met again Monday with Engineering Concepts Inc. (ECI), the town’s engineering and consulting firm in Fincastle. Oh, and the town still doesn’t have the promised grant/loan that will pay for the plant.

The town got a line of credit from Bank of Botetourt to cover the cost of the filtration plant until the combination grant/low-interest loan funds arrive.

Middlecamp said the plant came in on budget at $1,395,500. It will remove microscopic bacteria and parasites, including that hard-shell parasite known as cryptosporidium, that are not affected by the chlorination system the town already uses.

Well No. 3, the one that came under the influence of surface water, is tied into the state-of-the-art filtration plant.

A computerized system handles chlorination, the micro-filtration and backwashing; and it’s set up with an alarm system that notifies and operator if something goes wrong.

The plant went on line a week before the Boil Water Notice was lifted to be sure everything was operating correctly and the water tested the way it was supposed to.

The town has two other wells as part of its supply system. They do not have to be filtered. A fourth well has not been put on-line since it was drilled a few years ago because it is under the influence of surface water.

The capacity of the new filtration plant can be upgraded easily to handle that well, too, should it ever be needed, Middlecamp said.

“This is probably the cleanest water you can drink,” Middlecamp joked as he gave a tour of the new plant.

The plant includes the Pal Aria Water Treatment System, chlorination tank and equipment necessary to make it run. A control room houses the computer that keeps the system operating, there’s storage, a lab room for water testing and office space that’s still being finished.

The plant can filter 166 gallons a minute, Middlecamp said. That’s 9,960 gallons an hour or 239,040 gallons a day. By adding three more filter units, it could process 200 gallons a minute.

That provides a lot of leeway for the town, which now averages using about 85,000 gallons of water a day.

While Middlecamp doesn’t want to a repeat of the past year and a half, he did say there have been some enjoyable parts to the process—in particular working with ECI. “Hal Bailey and those guys are a great bunch to work with,” Middlecamp said. He had high praise for their work and help.

He also acknowledged how important it was for the town to be able to work with Bank of Botetourt and Botetourt County officials.