Hillsboro council OKs contract for mussels pilot study

The city of Hillsboro has agreed to participate with Marion in a $25,000 pilot study to determine if an experimental strategy is likely to protect the two cities? water source from the exploding population of zebra mussels at Marion Reservoir.

The city council authorized the initiative at its June 28 special meeting after getting more information about the plan from Don Heller, an engineer out of the Pratt office of Evans, Bierly, Hutchison and Associates.

The council had tabled action on a contract with EBH at its June 7 meeting, but Heller underlined the importance of taking action soon.

?The urgency is there,? Heller said, citing the rate at which the mussels are multiplying and the impact that growth already is having upon personnel from the water department.

Morgan Marler, Hillsboro?s senior water treatment technician, said baskets placed at the intake points shared by Marion and Hillsboro ?are full of those things.?

Water-plant staff are removing some 15 gallons of mussels every two to three days, Marler said. Based on established reproduction rates, the estimated 260,000 mussels removed so far would have produced some 10.5 billion mussels by the end of breeding season.

Heller said the proposed strategy would use ozone to create a ?shield? around the intake points that with the intent of keeping the mussels from entering the system at all.

He said using ozone to kill mussels has been used with some success in other areas and lakes, but this project would be the first attempt to create an ozone barrier to block the mussels? access to the system.

Heller said a collateral benefit of the strategy may be that using ozone will actually help with the treatment of the water further along in the process.

Responding to a question from the council, Heller said the contract with EBH to conduct the pilot study gives the city the option of not moving ahead with construction?estimated by Heller to cost between $200,000 and $300,000?if the study indicates the ozone strategy will not work.

Asked what ?Plan B? might be in that scenario, Heller said the city of Wichita has been experimenting with copper injections, but he was not aware of the results. Furthermore, he said ?not a lot of research has been done? about the impact of using copper in a drinking-water scenario.

The only other alternate strategy Heller mentioned was to continue using baskets at the intake points to filter out the mussels?but that would involve significant expense for the city to maintain the baskets during season, and to remove the baskets for the winter.

Regardless of which strategy the cities choose to pursue, Heller said the Army Corps of Engineers will have the final say whether the project can move forward.

Marler said the only other Plan B option would be to have the city buy its water from a rural water district, but it is unlikely the water district could provide sufficient volume for the city?s needs.

The pilot study will be conducted in a laboratory environment using mussels from the reservoir, Heller said.

Marler said the $25,000 fee is reasonable compared to past studies, which have cost $100,000 or more.

The cost of the pilot study will be shared equally by Marion and Hillsboro.

If the project moves into construction, those costs will be divided according to consumption. Hillsboro, which also treats water for the city of Peabody, will pay about two-thirds of the expense and Marion one third.

Mayor Delores Dalke reiterated her point from the June 7 meeting that Hills?boro?s portion of the construction costs should be covered through the water department rather than the city?s capital improvement fund.

Dalke said water-related expenses should be paid with water-related revenue, not with funds designated for street improvements and other infrastructure.

Paine repeated his earlier observation that a rate increase would be required to raise sufficient funding through the water department.

Heller said he would be bringing some payment strategies for the council to consider if and when the project moves toward the construction phase.

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