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Utility to change water-treatment method

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By Chris Sardelli

A year after county residents learned about high levels of contaminates in the water supply, a new water treatment process will be initiated that aims  to deplete those contaminates.

The Lancaster County Water and Sewer District will change how it treats water at its Catawba River water plant starting in September. The treatment plant will replace free chlorine in its water with chemicals called chloramines.

The change is being made primarily because of Environmental Protection Agency regulations and is intended to improve the water disinfection process.

The disinfection process uses chemicals to make drinking water safe for consumption. Primarily it reduces disinfection byproducts, which include trihalomethanes, or THMs.

Last summer the utility sent out a notice in water bills notifying customers about high levels of THMs, levels that had been higher than allowed by federal standards.

THMs are created during the treatment process when chlorine mixes with organic material such as decaying leaves and algae from water pulled from the Catawba River.

Chloramines, which will be used in the new treatment process, tend to react less with organic material in the water, which in turn can reduce the chances for THMs. By using chloramines, there will be less chlorine taste and odor in the water.

Mike Bailes, treatment plant director, said the use of chloramines, as with any treatment process, can have negative effects.

While most people will be safe using the water, two groups of people are more at risk – kidney dialysis patients and fish owners.

Both groups will need to adjust their equipment and filters to neutralize chloramines.

Dialysis patients who want more information on chloramines removal can contact Southeastern Kidney Council at (800) 524-7139.

Lancaster County Water and Sewer has been working to spread the word about the change to its customers throughout the county.

Customers may experience reduced water pressure or slightly discolored water while the utility flushes its water system in September to prepare for the change.

Bailes said Lancaster County has been following the lead of other counties that have upgraded their water treatment process. He has been working on reducing THM levels for more than a year, and said they are now at acceptable standards.

“We’re trying to get our numbers as low as we can,” Bailes said. “For the first two quarters of 2009, we’ve been in compliance. The numbers are real low.”

The utility recently released a consumer confidence report that included the running annual average for trihalomethanes, which was .058 parts per million (ppm).

The report says the numbers are still a violation, but Bailes said this is because it includes readings from 2008 before the problem was fully addressed.

As of July 9, he said the number had significantly decreased to .019 ppm in water going into the system. The EPA requires a trihalomethane level of .08 or less ppm.

Mark Knight, manager at Lancaster County Water and Sewer, said the utility has spent about $700,000 on testing, consultations and chemicals to combat the THM problem.

Knight said the new treatment process will cost an additional $20,000 annually, but said none of these costs will be passed on to customers.

“We will not increase customers’ water bills,” Knight said. “We’ll absorb the cost.”

For details about the change in the treatment process, go to www.lcwasd.org or http://crwtp.org.

Contact reporter Chris Sardelli  at csardelli@thelancasternews.com or at (803) 416-8416