Drought causes big headaches at water treatment plant
By BRUCE ALSOBROOK | News-Telegram Managing Editor
Dec 2, 2007 - The city of Sulphur Springs has sent out notices that a chemical in the water it provides to local residents isn’t good enough for the Enviromental Protection Agency.
Heck, it’s a whole one-one thousandth parts per million above federal mandated levels of trihalomethane.
But don’t blame the city’s water treatment plant for the problem — it’s the long arm of the drought that plagued the area for some two years that’s to blame.
�If the drought was the party,� said Sulphur Springs City Manager Marc Maxwell, �then trihalomethane is the hangover.�
And, Sulphur Springs is far from alone in dealing with this problem, Maxwell said. Virturally every city in the state that relies on a surface water source — i.e., a reservoir, river or stream — is dealing with elevated levels of TTHM, the city manager said Friday.
And, no matter how many cities in the Lone Star State have to worry about such environmental issues, it’s doubtful they’ll get any support from the state’s environmental enforcer in trying to address the troubles, he added.
�The state�s not inerested in hearing that we�ve all got the same problem,� Maxwell said.
All the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality cares about is that someone finds a solution, Maxwell indicated.
And that could take time. It’s a problem that could plague Sulphur Springs for two years, judging from what the city manager’s technical advisers have told him.
But at least the town’s in good company — many other cities in Texas are dealing with identical troubles, Maxwell said.
�We�re calling in some experts on this,� Maxwell said. �This could be a tough nut to crack.�
A large part of the problem can be attributed to the vast amount of vegetation that grew in the low-lying areas of the city’s primary water source, Cooper Lake, during the drought that officially began in October of 2002 and didn’t end until July of this year.
Once abundant rainfall began to fill Cooper Lake in the spring and summer, it also started to impact the vegetation. The heavy rains contributed to uprooting of the vegetation, causing higher amounts of organic matter to mix with the water supply in the lake. Higher levels of chlorine were employed to keep water quality at adequate levels — but that, along with higher water temperatures and longer times the H2O spent in storage tanks and water lines, contributed to raising the level of trihalomethane pumped through the city’s water distribution sytem.
For now, the city of Sulphur Springs plans to take some action steps to addres the problem: lowering the chlorine in the system, implementing a more aggressive program to change out water in water towers, and flushing water lines more frequently.
The city manager also suggested that there is no quick fix for the problem, saying that a permanent solution could be as far away as 2009.
�My technical people have told me this could be a two-year problem,� Maxwell said.
There is good news to accompany the sad, however. The city’s notice, for for example, states that the trihalomethane found in the city’s water supply “Is not an immediate risk.”
�While some people who drink water containing TTHM may deal with liver liver, kidney or central nervous system problems, the chances for such troubles locally are probably slim,� the city�s notice states.
And Maxwell has plenty of confidence in Robert Lee and the others at the city’s water treatmeant plant.
�I�m still drinking the water,� Maxwell said Friday. �And bathing in it.�