Proposal to use chloramine to treat Craig city water raises concerns; questions about monochloramine answered
- Monochloramine occurs when ammonia bonds with chlorine.
- It is different from dichloramine and trichloramine. Dichloramine and trichloramine are chloramine compounds sometimes found in and around indoor swimming pools, which cause skin, eye, and respiratory problems.
- Using or drinking water with small amounts of chloramine does not cause harmful health effects.
- Chloramine provides protection against waterborne disease outbreaks.
- Monochloramine lasts longer in water treatment systems.
- Monochloramine produces fewer disinfection by-products.
- Both chlorine and chloramine are toxic to fish, other aquatic animals, reptiles and amphibians that absorb water directly into the bloodstream.
CRAIG — About 3,600 people who purchase water from the city will see rates increase in January to help pay for water and wastewater system improvements, including the addition of a secondary disinfection system.
The system — designed at a cost of a little more than $428,000 by SGM, an engineering firm based in Glenwood Springs — calls for the use of monochloramine to bring Craig’s water into compliance with state and federal health regulations.
After a 2008 outbreak of salmonella in Alamosa that led to one death and more than 440 reported illnesses, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment increased disinfectant residuals requirements from “detectable” to minimum 0.2 mg/L, said SGM engineer Rick Huggins.
The city “could not maintain that level at all 10 sites continually monitored throughout the year,” said Mark Sollenberger, city of Craig water/wastewater director.
In 2016, the state gave the city four years, until April 2020, to comply with the rule to avoid an administrative order and fines as high as $30,000 per day, Sollenberger said.
“We couldn’t just increase the chlorine, or then you’d have to worry about disinfection by-products,” he said.
Instead, SGM developed a cost-effective solution using monochloramine, a longer-lasting chemical, as a secondary disinfectant, along with upgrades to reduce the time water is stored.
The project is expected to cost $5.2 million, requiring the city to increase rates to help finance this project, as well as others, to improve water and wastewater treatment systems.
New rates were adopted by a unanimous vote of the Craig City Council on Dec. 11. Before the vote, a public hearing was held, and residents expressed their concerns, both about monochloramine and the rate increase.
Community raises concerns
The first person to speak out on monochloramine was business owner Cindy Looper.
“The city switching to chloramine concerns me on several levels,” she said.
Her concerns include the potential for side effects on people, pet health, household and city infrastructure, cooking, an increase in lead in the water, and the impact of the chemical in the river.
Looper thinks the city is passing the cost of clean water to residents.
“It’s not a simple rate increase if I have to spend $10,000 to $15,000 for filtration costs in my house,” she said.
Craig resident Al Shepherd suggested the city consider lowering the cost of water to encourage people to water their lawns.
“This town is dirty, cruddy. We need to get some pride back into it,” he said. “If I was in business and wanted to sell it (water), I’d reduce the price and get rid of it. I think we should do it with water so people will start watering lawns again and make the community look nice.”
Resident Mark Jacobson said he understands the city is complying with regulations but added that, “It feels like we are paying more for less.”
He also noted that some of monochloramine’s by-products have yet to be regulated under the safe drinking water act but are “regarded by the Water Research Foundation as highly carcinogenic.”
Dave Wallace spoke against raising rates before a study of the efficiency of the city’s departments.
“We keep dumping more money into it. If we have inefficiencies, we are ignoring them,” he said.
In addressing these concerns, Mayor John Ponikvar said, “One of the most important services the city provides is good, clean drinking water.”
What is being changed?
To bring Craig water into compliance with the 0.2 mg/L disinfectant standard, changes will be made to the treatment plant and water distribution system.
About $2.1 million in improvements will be made to the city water treatment plant for storage of ammonia and equipment used to mix it with chlorine for production of monochloramine.
Monochloramine — a combination of chlorine and ammonia, commonly known as chloramine — has been used as a drinking water disinfectant since 1917. It is found in water used by an estimated 20 percent of Americans, including residents of Grand Junction and Denver, Huggins said.
“The amount of ammonia is below regulations on ammonia,” Huggins said.
About $3.1 million will be spent on improvements to the water distribution system to reduce the length of time water is stored from 20 to 30 days in the western zones of the city to a more optimal time of seven to 10 days.
A monochloramine boosting station will also be installed at the city’s Round Bottom Road storage tank.
All city storage tanks will be fitted with mixers to better circulate the stored water.
Dump values will be installed to allow water to flow from one zone to the next, Sollenberger said, adding that pressure-reducing valves will also be added so moving water from higher-pressure zones to lower won’t “shock” the system.
In addition, safety measures will be put in place.
Craig’s water treatment system uses a supervisory control and data acquisition and system requiring water plant operators to activate the system and monitor it through a system of control points.
“We have monitoring equipment on everything,” Sollenberger said.
To protect the watershed: “If we flush hydrants, we use de-chlorinated systems to avoid any kind of fish issues,” he said. That practice will continue.
Sollenberger expects all work to be completed near the end of 2019. The city will notify residents before making the switch.
In a review of studies of the human health impacts of monochloramine, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported no observations of health effects from drinking water with chloramine levels less than 50 mg/L in drinking water. Normal levels for drinking water disinfection range from 1.0 to 4.0 mg/L.
“Skin, eye, and respiratory problems have been linked to dichloramine and trichloramine exposure in relation to indoor swimming pools and hot tubs. However, dichloramine and trichloramine are typically not an issue in treated drinking water, which uses monochloramine, because utilities carefully monitor the water quality,” according to the CDC.
Dialysis uses large amounts of water that must be free of all chemical disinfectants, including chlorine and chloramine.
“Home dialysis users should consult the machine manufacturer for instructions on how to properly treat their water before use. Individuals who have health concerns should seek medical advice from their health care provider before contacting their local health department,” the CDC recommended.
Pets and plants
“If you don’t have gills, you don’t have to worry about it,” Huggins said.
The CDC advises the following regarding pets and plants:
• Both chlorine and chloramine are toxic to fish, other aquatic animals, reptiles, and amphibians that absorb water directly into the bloodstream.
• Unlike chlorine, chloramine cannot be removed by letting water sit out a few days. However, products are available at aquarium supply stores that can remove chloramine.’
• The small amount of chloramine added to water will not affect other pets and can be used regularly for watering and bathing animals.
• Plants are not harmed by water treated with chloramine.
Options for people with fish, turtles, or amphibians include using water filters to remove the chemicals or tablets to quench both chlorine and chloramine.
Cost and workability were two considerations that prompted SGM to recommend the addition of secondary disinfection and distribution system improvements.
“We’ve been testing various things the last couple of years,” Sollenberger said.
The amount of organic carbon in Yampa River water made other solutions, such as reducing the pH to better retain chlorine in the system, unworkable.
Reducing the pH involves the use of iron salts that are heavier and “don’t like to float” Sollenberger said.
This caused problems for the Dissolved Air Floatation system — installed in 2008. The DAF uses chemicals and air to coagulate, then lift, solids to the surface for removal.
Nano-filtration and a process known as MIAX were also considered, but both create a brine that would need to be discharged into the Yampa River.
“We were unsure if the state would grant a discharge permit” required under the Colorado salinity control act, Sollenberger said.
Granular activated carbon or GAC — a filtration system that adsorbs natural organic compounds, taste and odor compounds, and synthetic organic chemicals in drinking water treatment — was another process that was considered and rejected because it is “unbelievably expensive,” Huggins said.
GAC isn’t renewable and must regularly be removal and shipped to a regeneration facility.
“We received quotes from vendors for about $1 million a year, on top of the capital costs” that could have resulted in $50 price hike on every monthly bill, Huggins said.
The switch to could result in the degradation of some gaskets in household plumbing, though Huggins said “that risk is pretty low.”
Monochloromine is not expected to increase lead content in city water.
“We have upgraded a number of our pipes to C-90 plastic. We have some older steel pipe. Engineers don’t think that (lead) is an issue,” City Manager Peter Brixius said.
The cost to residents was considered when choosing monochloromine.
“The city understands that there may be some additional costs for some people that might be different than their neighbors, and they may be trying to provide help for that,” Huggins said.
The city manager expects to begin planning the transition soon.
“We’ll have some advisories out and filters for customers who need them,” Brixius said.
When will changes happen?
A water rate of $0.60 per month, and a $0.05 per 1,000 gallons was adopted by city council Dec. 11 and will become effective in January. Residential sewer (wastewater) rates will also increase by $0.95 per month, as will commercial rates.
Council will be asked to approve similar increases each year until 2023 to service payments on a bond issue to finance upgrades to water treatment, wastewater systems required by state and federal laws, and other needed projects.
“After 2023, we should be able to sustain these rates for a number of years in order to meet the projected obligations,” Brixius said.
The city will hold an additional public hearing Jan. 22, at which time Brixius said “subject matter experts will be available” to answer questions and address community concerns.
The city will notify residents before bringing the monochloramine system online in late 2019 or early 2020.
Contact Sasha Nelson at 970-875-1794 or snelson@CraigDailyPress.com.