BAGHDAD, Dec. 5, 2008 - For about 2 million Sadr City residents, clean drinking water running through their home faucets was a luxury few had. But now the water is flowing freely thanks to a new U.S. Army Corps of Engineers water treatment plant that was three years in the making.

"I am very happy for the 2 million people of Sadr City," said Iraqi engineer Aqeel Lami who has worked for the Corps of Engineers since the project's inception. "It's the first in Iraq, fully automatic and with American standards of best quality.

"We meet the people in the streets of Sadr City, and they are very happy," he said. "They feel that we are interested in them and their health. We are very proud of the success of this project."

The $27 million Sadr City R-3 water treatment plant construction began in 2005. The northern Sadr City location was chosen based on a government study of water pressure and supply, Corps water expert Simeon Francis said.

"There is simply not enough water to Sadr City from the Kharkh and Shark-Dijilih water treatment plants for the area," he said.

The plant began operation in mid-June with some interruptions due to power restrictions, Francis said. Today, R-3 produces 4,000 cubic meters of treated water per hour, providing clean, drinkable water to 27 areas of Sadr City -- areas that have had no centrally distributed water.

The plant hit full capacity in September, and a performance test in October confirmed the quality of the daily output at 25 million gallons per day. That output equates to clean, quality water for a total of 1.5 million people in Sadr City and Baghdad, Francis said.

The plant will employ 150 people for operations, maintenance and management, said project engineer Roland Belew.

"Operating at full capacity, the R-3 water treatment plant drastically increases the potable water to the people of Sadr City," Belew said. "The plant is operating at 100 percent capacity right now. It's a great success story for USACE."

(Kendal Smith is a public affairs officer with the Gulf Region South district, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Iraq.)