Warmer water a winner: Ship Creek treatment facility earns top award

Everyone involved in the Ship Creek Water Treatment Facility Heat Exchanger project knew they had an innovative project from the start. They were still surprised when it received the Engineering News Record Northwest Region’s 2017 Best Projects Merit Award in the Green Project category.

“It was the type of project with the size and uniqueness for this kind of recognition,” said Todd Carroll, Ship Creek Project Manager and Project Management Supervisor for Anchorage Water and Wastewater Utility.

Evan Griffith, Project Manager from R&M Consultants Inc., said, “Something like this has been done on a small scale in rural villages but not on the scale needed to heat all of Anchorage’s potable water.”

Twenty million gallons of water flows through the Ship Creek Energy Recovery Station from the glacial-fed Eklutna Lake 30 miles north of the Ship Creek Campus. Municipal Light and Power runs the water through a cooling tower co-located on the campus, allowing AWWU to capture 100 MBTU, or million British Thermal Units, of waste heat through the new heat transfer system. The waste heat is used to heat water from 44 degrees to 60 degrees Fahrenheit for distribution through its system. Previously, AWWU could only collect 75 MBTU, a fraction of which could be distributed to residential and business customers due to pipe configuration. The increased collection is due to five large, double-walled, plate-and-frame heat exchangers certified by the National Sanitation Foundation to be safe for potable-quality water (NSF 61).

Carroll said the team faced several initial challenges with permitting and certifying such an innovative design. This was the first double walled plate-and-frame exchanger in the country at the time of this size that would require NSF 61 certification, and everything down to the adhesive needed to meet these stringent standards. At the same time, AWWU and ML&P wanted to update an old agreement that was ready to expire. It took many discussions among key players before reaching a final agreement for design and construction of the new system.

“This configuration was new to the industry,” Carroll said. “We had to get the plate and frame exchangers NSF-certified and approved and get buy-in from all the stakeholders, including the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (ADEC). Once we had that, things fell into place.”

Accomplishing a project of this magnitude requires a talented team. Lead designer R&M Consultants Inc. provided surveying; geotechnical, site, civil and structural engineering; public involvement; and environmental and permitting services. General contractor Frawner Corp. was responsible for all day-to-day construction activities and coordination with AWWU, subcontractors and vendors, end-users and consultants. Frawner also performed the installation of all the mechanical equipment and piping, underground piping and site civil improvements. Significant input was also required from ML&P administrators responsible for fitting the new Plant 2A for two of the five new heat exchangers.

“This project was a team effort all the way around,” said Eric Kozlowski, project manager for Frawner. “We worked side by side with both utilities.”

The benefit to the Municipality of Anchorage is extensive. From an environmental perspective, much of the waste heat from the electrical generation process is used to heat water rather than vented into the atmosphere as air pollution. The heated water reduces the number of pipe-freezing events in AWWU’s system and customer piping, plus it reduces the amount of electric or gas heat used by residents and business to heat tap water for use, and the amount of water use by ML&P to generate power is decreased about 81.5 million gallons per year.

AWWU serves 50,000 residential and 3,573 commercial and industrial customers. The Ship Creek project cost AWWU about $12 million; however, AWWU estimates AWWU customers and ML&P combined will save approximately $2.4 million per year in addition to the environmental benefits.

“It is recycling at its finest,”Griffith said.

However, the chance of repeating this type of project in other parts of the United States is slim. The Ship Creek Water Treatment Facility Heat Exchanger succeeded because the key infrastructure, including the co-location of ML&P Plant 2A and AWWU’s heat exchanger along with the location and temperature of Eklutna Lake, is unique. Had ML&P Plant 2A existed off the Ship Creek Campus, it would have been extremely difficult to connect the two facilities. Carroll also explains that most water in the Lower 48 doesn’t require additional heating

and therefore communities wouldn’t have much need for this type of setup.

“Most water in the Lower 48 is already around 55 degrees Fahrenheit, maybe even warmer in summer. Warming water beyond 60 degrees runs the risk of increased bacteria and other byproducts in the water,” Carroll said.

He adds that some commercial sectors in the Lower 48 have heat exchange systems that resemble Ship Creek but on a much smaller scale.

Representatives from AWWU, R&M Consultants and Frawner received their award for meritorious environmental achievements on Dec. 14, 2017, at ENR’s Best Projects Awards Event in Seattle. The award is considered one of commercial construction’s most prestigious and coveted honors. Since then, Carroll has learned that the project has also earned recognition from the American Public Works Association, Alaska Chapter and from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Region 10. And while regional recognition is deserving, Kozlowski and Griffith say they are also happy with the local appreciation the project receives. Both Kozlowski and Griffith have two sons who take pride in their fathers’ work at the site.

“Most people will pass the facility and just see buildings,” Kozlowski

said. “Every time I pass the power plant building with my two little boys, they talk about how I helped on this project.”

“I hear that from my two boys when we drive by as well,” Griffith said.


Rachael Kvapil is a freelance writer and photographer who lives in Fairbanks.