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Plant upgrades could cost $2.3 million

By Alex Bridges

FRONT ROYAL -- The town faces spending millions of dollars to improve how it treats drinking water under stricter federal and state rules.

Town Council expressed concern that such a costly project comes only a few years after Front Royal completed upgrades to water treatment plant.

The town's consultant continues to evaluate Front Royal's water treatment plant so the facility can meet current regulations set by the Department of Health. The consultant has provided officials with options for upgrades, Town Manager Steven Burke told council members at a work session Monday.

"Unfortunately, they're relatively expensive," Burke said.

Water Treatment Plant Superintendent Mike Kisner told council recommended upgrades could cost an estimated $2.3 million, citing the consultant's information. The consulting firm, CHA, recommends the town install a system that uses ultraviolet light to further treat Front Royal's drinking water.

The town must comply with the federal rules on disinfectants and disinfection byproducts as well as long-term enhanced surface water treatment. The former rule seeks to reduce exposure to disinfection byproducts for customers of community water systems and non-transient non-community systems, including those that serve fewer than 10,000 people and that add a disinfectant to drinking water during the treatment process. Additional regulations seek to strengthen the rule by tightening compliance monitoring requirements for two kinds of disinfection byproducts: trihalomethanes and haloacetic acids

The purpose of the latter rule, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, is to reduce illness linked to the contaminant cryptosporidium and other disease-causing microorganisms in drinking water. The rule supplements existing regulations by targeting additional cryptosporidium treatment requirements to higher-risk systems, according to the EPA.

Town officials likely may come back before council with a recommendation that the town go with equipment that uses ultraviolet light to improve water. Council members looked over the various options presented at the work session.

Kisner explained that certain chemical treatments would remove all disinfectant byproducts. As for ultraviolet treatment, Kisner noted that while the installation would cost approximately $1.2 million, the town would spend an average $85,000 per month to operate the system. That cost could rise depending on the amount of water treated, Kisner said.

While the town plant is in compliance with federal rules, the regulations on disinfectant byproducts go into effect in October, Kisner said. The official added that most likely the town will violate those new regulations.

"We simply wanted to provide this information to council to let them know the consultant is continuing to work with the town and Department of Health to identify what the best long-term solution to meet the current regulations will be," Burke said.

In response to a question from Councilman Eugene Tewalt, Burke told council the state mandated the town upgrade its water plant. Tewalt expressed frustration that the town may need to spend more money to upgrade the plant even after Front Royal spent the same amount in 2006. The town completed the earlier upgrade construction in 2009, according to Kisner.

The town plant falls under certain compliance standards. But testing for the new standards did not take place until 2008 and 2009, Kisner explained. In 2010 the state Department of Health finalized the process to determine under which classification the town plant would fall.

"With that being said a lot of the design work was done prior to the new regulations coming in," Kisner said.

"It really irritates me that we get all these mandates from the state and the federal government with no financial resources," Tewalt said. "Small towns like us we got a $40 million secondary treatment plant we're talking about or more and by the time you add the interest on it you're looking at $60 million that the taxpayers are going to have to pay."

The town continues to make payments on the $10 million spent on the earlier plant upgrade, Tewalt noted.

"I think it's time for the town to take a stance and write them a letter and tell them to shove it," Tewalt said. "I get fed up with these federal regulations. With the economy the way it is towns cannot afford this type of cost anymore. Before it was bad, but now it's terrible."

Councilman Thomas Sayre asked Kisner when he and other officials saw the regulations coming down. Burke told council officials learned of the stricter rules near the end of the construction of the plant and the Department of Health began requiring the town to conduct testing.

At the end of 2010 and into 2011 the Department of Health advised the town the treatment plant fell into a range under which Front Royal must provide controls for disinfection byproducts and cryptosporidium.

Tewalt noted his familiarity with the benefit of using ultraviolet light to treat wastewater but questioned why the town would need to use such a method to treat drinking water.

"Well, unfortunately because the Shenandoah River is in an agrarian area and because the testing on our raw water has indicated that cryptosporidium, which is effectively a product of animals being too close to the river, there is an increased likelihood of potential for a human health issue," Burke said. "As a result, the Department of Health has stipulated that the town, since we withdraw water from the river, has to supply an additional level of treatment to ... further minimize the risk due to the presence of cows in the river."

Town officials likely would have incorporated the treatment methods into the plant design had they known about the stricter rules earlier in the process, Burke told council in response to a question posed by Sayre. But Burke added that knowing the rules then would not change the estimated costs facing the town now.

Councilman Daryl Funk asked about treatment regulations for pharmaceuticals. Burke told council town officials don't know when the EPA and the Department of Health will come to an agreement on how localities treat water and wastewater for pharmaceuticals.

"So we will most likely in the next five, 10, 15 years be coming back to council with a request for additional upgrades at either one of those plants," Burke said.

The town will begin this month to test for the presence of chemicals found in personal care products, Kisner said.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com


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