By. Neil Williamson, President
How about 25% – 35% increase in your monthly water bill. How will that impact those on a fixed budget?
Should economic impacts have equal standing with scientific data in the discussion?
Please let me explain.
Let’s start with a given that everyone wants a sufficient, clean safe, drinking water supply.
To that end, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates requirements for disinfection of drinking water as well as limits on the presence of byproducts. The EPA first developed these regulations in 1979 and has regularly been updating (and tightening the regulations). The most recent change in the EPA requirements caused the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority (RWSA) to approve the use of chloramines as a secondary disinfectant. While the RWSA Board has approved the use of chloramines, with no public comment, the implementation of this action has not yet occurred.
The Free Enterprise Forum has been troubled by several individuals who have suggested that our water is just fine as is and we do not have to do anything. An independent analysis by Hazen Sawyer conducted in July 2011 found:
Sampling sites for the Stage 2 DBP Rule were selected through the Initial Distribution System Evaluation process as required by the DBPR. The Initial Distribution System Evaluation (IDSE) found that compliance with the Stage 2 DBPR would be a challenge without water treatment plant (WTP) modifications to reduce DBP formation.
Beyond the knowing violation of federal law, the EPA also reserves the right to fine violators up to $25,000 per day of violation.
While one may not agree with the specific numbers in the federal requirement, the place to argue this is at the federal rather than local level. So doing nothing is NOT an option.
Interestingly, neither the EPA nor the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) dictate specifically how a municipal water authority disinfects their water. They simply provide guidance regarding approved options.
Prior to selecting chloramines as a solution, the RWSA considered several of the EPA/VDH approved options. In his March 9th Memo to the RWSA Board Executive Director Tom Frederick laid out the capital facility options as:
- Granular activated carbon filtration
- Magnetic Ion exchange
- Membrane nanofiltration
- Ultraviolet light
The least costly (about $5 million dollars capital and $102,000 annual operating) was chloramines. The next least costly option, granular activated carbon, capital costs are $18.3 million dollars and annual operating cost is $980,000.
Not surprisingly, the RWSA Board of Directors supported the staff recommendation to use chloramines to attain the unfunded federal mandate regarding disinfectant.
It is important to note, many municipal water systems nationwide have been successfully using chloramines as a disinfectant. In fact, 76% of all Virginians today are drinking water disinfected by chloramines; including drinking water in Fairfax County, Norfolk and Richmond. In fact, Richmond water works has been using chloramines for over fifty years.
Our research has resulted in uncovering many heart breaking stories regarding potential chloramine impacted skin rashes and diseases. While we feel for those impacted negatively, we have not seen any statistical evidence linking increases of such diseases between those communities using chloramines and those not.
If a change is made today to reverse course and move to granular activated carbon filtration, sources have indicated that the wholesale rate for water may increase by 25% to 35%. This fact is under reported and must be a part of the public discussion.
Choices have economic consequences.
Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa and Nelson County. For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org