An educated gamble to try an unconventional water-treatment strategy appears to be paying off in a big way for water customers in Hillsboro and Peabody.
Water-treatment plant staff in Hillsboro recently received word from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment that a year?s worth of testing indicates it has met the state?s most stringent standard for levels of trihalo?methanes (TTHMs) and halo?acetic acids (HAA5s).
Both are cancer-causing byproducts related to the chlorination process in the treatment of raw water that contains organic materials?such as decaying vegetation commonly found in lakes and reservoirs.
Hillsboro?s raw water comes from Marion Reservoir, which battles blue-green algae blooms each summer.
?There is a blue-green algae connection,? Hillsboro City Administrator Larry Paine said. ?The challenge is greater for us to get (the by-products) out because of it.?
The standard set by KDHE via the Environmental Protec?tion Agency is 80 parts per billion for TTHMs and 60 ppb for HAA5s. But a city?s water plant can reduce its monitoring expense by reducing those levels to 40 ppb and 30 ppb, respectively, which is half of the required standard.
Following a year-long sampling process, Hillsboro?s current averages are 39 ppb for TTHMs and 30 for HAA5s, according to Kelly Kelsey, a water specialist with KDHE.
How will that translate into consumer savings in Hillsboro and Peabody money?
In the short run, the city will save money by greatly reducing the number of tests it would otherwise be required to continue.
?Those are $20,000 tests,? Paine said.
Over the long haul, the cost of the chemicals used in the unconventional process are less expensive. Also, the city won?t be required to make another major investment?possibly several million dollars?in its plant if and when KDHE decides to make the lower standards mandatory.
?It?s easy for a system to reach the 80/60 compliance standard,? said Morgan Marler, the city?s senior water technician. ?It?s more difficult for a system to reach the 40/30 numbers, but that?s our goal and we strive to reach it each quarter.?
Hillsboro?s achievement is the result of deciding during its recent plant upgrade to allow for the use of a relatively unconventional treatment strategy called the Congo Process. It was developed and patented by an Okla?homa water-plant operator, Marler said.
?We?re using hydrogen peroxide and a catalyst, and we?re using a chemical-feed treatment process where we can juggle the chemistry around a little bit,? Marler said.
?There are other treatment technologies available for this, like ozone and chlorine dioxide,? she added. ?But those are very expensive processes to use and they?re very dangerous to use as well.
?We wanted to find something that would allow us to meet these regulations, but it wouldn?t be so costly for our customers and it wouldn?t be so harmful for the people who are working here.?
In case the Congo Process would not produce satisfactory results, the city decided to install a parallel treatment system within the plant that would have enabled it to switch to the more traditional method.
?(The Kansas Rural Water Association) helped us out a lot in getting the research done so we could establish the fact that it would do what we thought it would do,? Paine said about the Congo Process.
?It may still be considered an experimental process, but the longer we use it, the more proof we?ll have that it does what we say it does.?
Paine said the achievement merits some bragging rights for the city and its water-plant staff.
?Small plants don?t normally make that kind of achievement without hilariously large expenditures,? he said.
Marler said she was pleased with the outcome.
?We?ve been working very hard to try and reach that goal over the last year,? she said. ?The quality of the water is better, and our treatment process is working well without having to spend more money on ozone or chlorine dioxide to meet the requirements.?