Alert Issued For Two Topeka-Area Water Districts

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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - Two Topeka-area water suppliers have higher than acceptable levels of a compound, linked to an increased risk of cancer.

The City of Topeka says Shawnee County Rural Water District 3, in southern Shawnee County, and the Metro Topeka Airport Authority at Forbes Field all violate EPA requirements for Haloacetic acid (HAA) levels.

HHAs are a byproduct of using chlorine to treat and filter water.

Both entities get their water from the City of Topeka. The city water itself has stayed in compliance, but officials say it's unlikely to stay that way due to new testing requirements. City of Topeka Utilities Superintendent Don Rankin says the city's HAA levels have been at the upper limits of what's acceptable under a prior system where they were allowed to average results of all test sites. However, new requirements say each site individually could count as a violation.

As for how the city's HAA levels have stayed within the acceptable range while entities to which the same water is supplied have not, Rankin explained that the HAAs continue to from as a byproduct of the chlorine as the water flows into and through the system. Therefore, he says, it stands to reason that the further the water goes from the source, the higher the HAA level will be as more of it develops.

Rankin says the water is safe. He says people would need to be concerned if the city did nothing. Rankin says the EPA cites the possibility of an increased cancer risk when consuming water with unacceptable HAA levels over long periods of time, such as several decades.

Rankin says a consultant recommends switching from chlorine to a disinfecting system using ozone. A cost estimate isn't yet available, but he'll be proposing the upgrade to council members during capital improvement plan discussions.

Affected customers will receive notices about the violation. Shawnee County Rural Water District #3 has just over a 1,037 customers. A person with the district says the notices are being developed and will be sent by their January 17th deadline to notify customers. MTAA says it supplies around 60 commercial customers.

Earlier notices included Northern Osage County's Rural Water District #8 in the alert, however, KDHE confirmed Thursday afternoon that was an error and their HAA levels were not in violation. City of Topeka spokesperson Suzie Gilbert told 13 News the city was informed via a December 18 email that Osage Co. CRWD #8 had levels in violation and was not informed it had been removed from the violation list until late Thursday afternoon.

City of Topeka New Release

Two Rural Water Districts (RWDs), CRWD#3 Shawnee and MTAA (Metropolitan Topeka Airport Authority – Forbes Field) have been notified that they are in violation of HAA requirements. HAAs are Haloacetic Acids, compounds that are byproducts created from chlorine water filtration.

CRWD#3 buys 100 percent of their water from the City of Topeka, and RWD#8 Osage buys 100 percent of their water from CRWD#3. CRWD#3 provides water to areas generally in southern Shawnee County outside the City limits. RWD#8 Osage provides water to areas generally in northern Osage County.

Each RWD has 30 days to inform their customers of the violation. As the provider of water to these wholesale customers, the City of Topeka has provided a statement to print on notices to their customers.

The City of Topeka has not exceeded the limit for HAAs.

History and Regulations

Chlorine has been added to drinking water for more than 100 years to kill potentially dangerous microorganisms, and to make the water safe to drink. Years ago, it was discovered that by-products are created by the reaction of the chlorine with naturally occurring organic material in the water. Among these by-products are compounds known as Haloacetic Acids (HAAs).

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which has the responsibility for the administration of drinking water standards, has determined the possibility exists that some people who drink water containing high levels of HAAs over several decades could have an increased risk of getting cancer. Because of this potential, the EPA has established regulations intended to reduce the levels of HAAs in drinking water.

Violation of the HAA standard is not considered an immediate threat to persons. The risk is created from long-term exposure to HAAs that exceed the standards.

Regulation Changes and the Impact

The City of Topeka has been testing for HAAs for more than 10 years. We have approached the limit several times, but with some inexpensive adjustments, we’ve been able to maintain compliance. Recent changes in monitoring requirements, however, will make it unlikely that we will continue to stay in compliance without major changes in our treatment process.
We sample 8 specified locations in the City. Previously, the annual amount for testing was determined by averaging all those locations together. Now, if the annual average at any one location is above the maximum level, the City will be out of compliance.

The City of Topeka provides drinking water to wholesale customers outside the City limits through wholesale contracts. The wholesale customers then sell the water to their customers. In the past, wholesale customers have not been required to test for HAAs. Recent changes now require our wholesale customers to test for HAAs.

Because of the HAA testing requirement changes, staff reached the conclusion that unless significant capital improvements are made, it is only a matter of time before the City and wholesale customers exceed the limits for HAAs.

In an effort to solve the problem, the City hired a consultant in 2012 that completed a study of options to remain in compliance with HAA-related water quality parameters. The consultant has completed the report, and is now working to better develop estimates for the cost of installation.

Option for Compliance

The consulting firm retained by the City has recommended that the City change its disinfection process from using chlorine to using Ozone.

Using Ozone to disinfect the water has many advantages:
· Regulatory compliance with HAA requirements.
· No chemical addition to the water – ozone is created using electricity.
· Greatly improves the taste and odor of the water. Every few years, Topeka experiences taste and odor issues caused by algae in the lakes and rivers. Current water treatment processes are ineffective in correcting the taste and odor issues, but ozone has been proven effective. Customers generally consider Water Treatment facilities that use Ozone for disinfection to have the best tasting water.
· Ozone will reduce the levels of other undesirable elements, such as algal toxins.
· Ozone does have a higher capital cost to install than other options, but has a lower operating cost than other options, making it the better choice over the life of the assets. We are currently working with our consultant firm to refine the capital costs.

Utilities in Kansas that treat with Ozone:
· Wichita
· Iola
· Council Grove
· Fort Scott
· Emporia (won the Best Tap Water prize at the Berkeley Springs International Water Tasting)
· Marion

A disinfection modification (Ozone) project is planned for upcoming CIP discussions with City’s governing body.