Fun Facts About the Ultrafiltration Plant
A lot of water from some tiny fibers
The ultrafiltration plant uses hollow fibers to take particulate matter out of the water. The walls of the fibers are porous, letting water through and keeping the particles behind.
A cross section of an ultrafiltration vessel shows the thousands of hollow fibers packed inside.
A powerful microscope shows the tiny holes in the walls of a fiber. Like a kitchen sieve, they let water through and leave larger material behind.
While these fibers are tiny, there are plenty of them. About 9,600 fibers are in one vessel, and there are four vessels in one long module. The plant has 28 vessels on each ultrafiltration unit, and there are 40 of those units in the new plant. That means there are about 43,008,000 fibers cleaning the city’s water.
One of the 40 water purifying units inside the Ultrafiltration Plant at Columbia Heights.
Altogether, these fibers create a surface area of 1,669,000 square feet. That’s larger than the area the Pentagon building covers. If put end-to-end, these fibers would stretch more than 40,000 miles, or about 1.6 times the circumference of the earth at the equator.
All of these fibers produce a lot of water. In just one day, the ultrafiltration plant can produce up to 70 million gallons of clean, drinkable water. At that rate, it could fill Lake of the Isles in a little more than four days.
The new water plant will take impurities as small as 0.03 micrometer (µm) out of the water you drink. To give you an idea of how small that is, the table below lists the size in microns of a number of familiar small items:
Ultrafiltration Plant will remove microns as small as 0.03 micrometers (µm)
Thickness of a dime
Thickness of a U.S. dollar bill
Particle of beach sand
100 to 2000 µm
Thickness of human hair
30 to 200 µm
11 to 120 µm
Red blood cells
4 to 10 µm
1 to 110 µm
0.2 to 2 µm
3 to 6 µm
1 to 3 µm
0.02 to 0.09 µm
0.02 to 0.08 µm
0.0003 to 0.002 µm
Dissolved minerals (calcium, etc.)
0.0002 to 0.0003 µm
Although ultrafiltration removes nearly all viruses from the water supply, a fraction of them cannot be completely screened out. However, the threats posed by these pathogens are mitigated by chlorine treatment.
Dissolved salts and minerals are also small enough to remain in the water after ultrafiltration. These compounds are desirable, since they contribute to the taste of our water. Mineral content is also added to the water to prevent pipe corrosion that would otherwise take place as the water makes it to customers.
Last updated Apr. 9, 2013