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Front Royal seeks time to upgrade water plant

By Alex Bridges

Front Royal must make costly upgrades to its water treatment plant even though the town's drinking water remains safe.

The town faces an October deadline to design and build or install equipment in the plant to meet new, stricter regulations on drinking water. Front Royal recently filed a request with the Virginia Department of Health seeking a two-year extension of the deadline to meet standards on two specific regulations. The town needs the extra time to investigate its options, alternatives and costs.

A recent change in the regulations tightened the standards for removal of cryptosporidium in drinking water. Likewise, new regulations call for the removal of chemicals that appear in water as a result of the treatment process.

The new regulations affect all municipalities in the state that provide drinking water, Town Manager Steven Burke explained Friday.

"The Department of Health has all water providers monitoring their source water, and based on the testing that was completed on our source water there is a likelihood that cryptosporidium could be present," Burke said. "It doesn't necessarily mean that it is present in the water at any given time.

"Based on the standards that the Department of Health has adopted and the testing results that we have provided to them, we are required to provide additional treatment methodology to ensure that if cryptosporidium was present in the source water that our treatment process would actively remove it from the potable water supply," Burke added.

The agency offers a time extension to municipalities that supply drinking water provided they show intent to work on meeting the new regulations. The town has a consultant on board working on the project. Front Royal submitted a preliminary engineering study to the department that shows the improvements needed.

The town also initiated a period for the public to comment on the extension request. The period ends Sept. 27. People may submit comments or ask questions by contacting Mike Kisner, water treatment plant superintendent, at 636-7474.

Preliminary estimates show the project could cost upward of $3 million. But Front Royal began a pilot study to look at alternative treatment methods officials say might bring down the cost of upgrading the plant.

The town applied for a two-year extension to complete the design and installation of improvements to the plant to remove cryptosporidium, trihalomethanes and halocetic acids from source water and during the treatment process, according to Front Royal's public notice.

The town's water plant must comply with the National Primary Drinking Water Regulations and the Virginia Waterworks Regulations. The rules set standards for various contaminants in drinking water, including cryptosporidium.

Front Royal remains in compliance with water-quality standards and must continue to meet all treatment and quality requirements during the extension period. The town issued the notice to comply with state and federal regulations aimed at increasing consumer awareness.

Cryptosporidium exists in most untreated sources of drinking water. However, the bacteria known to cause waterborne disease remains resistant to chlorine and other disinfectants used to treat drinking water. Cryptosporidium can cause gastrointestinal illness, severe for people with weakened immune systems.

"It has been determined that the duration of this compliance extension does not subject the public to unreasonable health risks," the town's public notice states. "In addition we will be initiating interim measures at the water treatment plant to reduce Cryptosporidium in our treated water."

The town provided the public notices to comply with federal and state regulations aimed at increasing consumer awareness.

The town must also upgrade the plant to rid drinking water of chemicals created in the treatment process. Trihalomethanes and halocetic acids are two groups of compounds formed when chlorine, used to disinfect drinking water, reacts with naturally occurring organic compounds found in the untreated source water.

Some people who drink water containing high levels of trihalomethanes over many years may experience problems with their liver, kidneys or central nervous system, and may have an increased risk of getting cancer, according to the town's public notice. Some people who drink water containing halocetic acids over many years may have an increased risk of getting cancer.

The town also remains in compliance with current standards for trihalomethanes and halocetic acids, the notice states.

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

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