When the water conservation practices of recent years met the deluge of rainfall in the last few months, the water treatment process was caught in the middle.
On Jan. 20, the Environmental Protection Division issued a technical violation to the Newton County Water Resources department because haloacetic acid levels in the drinking water had exceeded the maximum allowed containment level by one part per billion. The violation occurred during the fourth quarter of 2009.
No fine was involved, and Water Resources Director Karl Kelley said the violation was minor.
“It’s just a regulatory issue, not a public safety issue. We’re not recommending any changes to water consumption or use,” Kelley said.
The levels were too high because of a combination of factors. Before the drought hit Georgia, water vendors, normally cities or water authorities, would routinely flush out their system of water pipes to remove any stagnant water.
This is important because haloacetic acid, and other potentially dangerous chemicals, is formed over time when chlorine, which is used to kill bacteria in raw water, combines with carbon and nitrogen compounds in the water. These naturally occurring compounds are the result of plant and animal material that seeps into the water source through runoff.
During the drought, one way to conserve water was to not flush out the water pipe system as frequently. While chlorine kills bacteria at the source, extra amounts of chlorine also have to be added to help preserve the water quality as it travels through the system.
There was very little runoff entering the lakes and rivers during the drought, so bacteria and carbon and nitrogen compound levels were fairly low. As rainfall levels increased dramatically and floods occurred, runoff into water sources increased as well. This necessitated increased levels of chlorine.
However, water vendors continued to not flush water lines, so in a few areas, particularly areas where water usage is low, higher chlorine levels reacted with a higher number of carbon and nitrogen compounds. This led to the higher level of haloacetic acid and the violation.
Kelley said he believed the testing sites that experienced violations were mainly in the southern part of the county and in Jasper County. Kelley said Newton County Water Resources is the bulk water provider to cities and authorities and is not in charge of flushing out lines. However, Newton County is the one that receives the violation. That will change in 2012, when the city or other vendor will also receive a violation.
The high levels will be addressed by adding more powder activated charcoal, which absorbs the carbon and nitrogen compounds in the reservoir before that water goes into the treatment plant.
Kelley said the county will also purchase about $10,000 worth of testing equipment so they can more accurately monitor chemical levels themselves instead of having to wait for the EPD to send back tests. Kelley said the county was the one who initially notified the EPD that the haloacetic acid level was high.
Newton County residents will soon be receiving a notification of the violation either in the mail or on their door. Porterdale’s residents may notice a hanger on their door notifying them.
“There is no hazard to anybody’s health, it’s innocuous. If you drank two quarts of water for 70 years with higher levels of haloacetic acid, you might have an elevated risk of bladder cancer,” Kelley said.
Kelley said the ways to disinfect water include running it under high intensity ultraviolet light and using an ozone treatment. Both methods avoid using chemicals but they are very expensive and found only in larger plants. However, he said as the county grows the water resources department will continue to look into these methods.
He said one option that could be used in upcoming years is implementing a reservoir circulator, which keeps the water moving. This method increases oxygen levels which help keep the organic compound levels low.
If residents have questions, they can visit co.newton.ga.us or contact Kelley at (678) 625-1684, or Cornish Creek Water Treatment Plant Manager Jason Nord at (770) 784-2125.