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Craig residents question city council’s choice to convert to monochloramine

CRAIG — About 30 residents attended the first Craig City Council meeting of 2019 and made the most of expanded opportunities for public comment, voicing concerns about the planned use of monochloramine as a secondary disinfectant in drinking water.

“Fish live and breath in water, and if it will kill them, I’m pretty sure it’s not good enough for us,” said resident Vicki Huyser during a public hearing to inform citizens about water improvement projects.

As reported in the Craig Press Dec. 27, to comply with state law, by April 2020, the city must change how water is treated and moved through the system to maintain a minimum 0.2 mg/L chlorine residual in the system, which is tested at 10 sites across the city.

The city has been out of compliance since a state rural change in April 2016.

“Regulatory violations erode public confidence in the water and in the city,” said SGM Engineer Rick Huggins, part of a team hired to help the city develop and implement a solution.

Huggins was the first to speak during the hearing, presenting information about other options tested, as well as health and safety information about monochloramine — commonly called chloramine.

“I can’t help feeling there is some bias as SGM is benefiting. … I would like to see a speaker well-versed in the opposition of chloramines to give a presentation, as well,” said resident Dave Wallace.

Wallace said he learned from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment that other municipalities in Colorado comply without major modifications. He questioned why Craig needed to take additional measures.

Huggins said the Dissolved Air Floatation system used to treat Craig water, as well as the source — the Yampa River, which, due to run-off, requires more treatment than other sources across the state — prevented use of his preferred treatment system.

Wallace asked the city to consider a two-step process, making distribution changes first, then adding chloramine only if those changes don’t result in compliance.

“I think there is more of a methodical approach to coming up with the answer,” he said.

Wallace thinks council members should have done more to independently research options.

“I would think you would have a stack of documents based on your own research. I think you’ve let the community down. You are hearing one biased opinion. Where are your opinions?” Wallace said.

Resident Darrell Sparks also had a list of concerns and questions.

“I’m concerned that we are having this meeting after city council voted 6-0 to approve paying for it. I’m concerned we have been in violation since April 2016, and there’s no mention of it on the water quality report or notification,” he said.

Sparks’ research showed 17 other cities use chlorine and remain in compliance.

“I’m concerned only data from one source was considered. I hope on Election Day, the citizens of Craig will remember they were ignored on the initial process of this,” Sparks said.

The potential for lead leaching and nitrification were two additional concerns raised.

NDMA — a type of nitrosamine — is a carcinogenic chemical and known disinfection by-product of chloramine, which remains when ammonia and nitrogen combine. Nitrosamines are not currently regulated. Regulations are expected in another five to 10 years when the Environmental Protection Agency reviews rules related to disinfection by-products.

Sparks added, “That could make the system obsolete.”

He also voice concern about chloramine’s impact on lead pipes within homes, a concern shared by Wallace and Huyser.

“What we missed here is the leaching of lead and metals out of the system,” Wallace said.

Huggins said state health officials consider Craig at high risk for lead contamination and the city’s water already requires rigorous testing.

He also acknowledged the city is working through an operations manual to address possible corrosion, disinfection by-products, and any biofilm that might be formed when ammonia is introduced into the system.

“I recommend to everyone … testing on their own for a baseline test, then compare into the future to see if there is a change,” Wallace said.

Huggins said residents could also remove monochloramine and chlorine from their homes system by using catalytic activated carbon (two-stage) water filters where it enters the home or at tap points within the home.

He showed an example of a filter on sale for $371 that would provide filtration for a year for a family of four with typical water use.

After the public hearing, council members, except Joe Bird, who was unable to attend, unanimously voted to approve two additional measures to pay for the project. They include:

• A loan between the Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority and the city of Craig Water Activity Enterprise Fund for $300,000 to upgrade the city’s water treatment plant and distribution system improvements. City Attorney Sherman Romney said the “special loan” will be forgiven once the city receives a $3.2 million bond to finance the project. “It’s almost like a grant,” he said.

• A letter to engage Lisa Mayers, of Spencer Fane, to act as bond counsel for the water activity enterprise financing at a cost of $13,500 and $380 per hour for additional services.

Council members also unanimously approved the following:

• A consent agenda to renew liquor licenses for Fiesta Jalisco, Loaf ‘N Jug, Vallarta’s, and Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4265, as well as a request for modification of premises for City Market.

• A first reading of an ordinance adopting new landfill fees for residential and commercial refuse collection.

• An agreement for added IT support services from Grand Junction-based Pro Velocity in the amount of $20,640.

• A new brewpub liquor license for the Yampa Valley Brewing Company-Barrel Cathedral, to be located at 576 Yampa Ave. Romney said all documentation was in order, including comments from businesses and neighbors within 600 feet of the location. Two of the owners and four citizens spoke in favor of the new establishment during a public hearing before the vote.

• An agreement for advertising with Colorado Mountain News for 2019 for a little more than $25,300.

• Resolutions designating the bulletin board in front of council chambers as the public posting place for notices of meetings, as required under open meetings law, and another designating the Craig Press the official newspaper of the city.

• A lease with Connections4Kids for 2019 for $200 per month.

Economic development was the topic of a workshop held before the meeting.

Council member Tony Bohrer will join council member Andrea Camp and Chris Nicholes as part of a committee to further develop a mini-matching grant program to help businesses improve and expand.

During the workshop, Brixius presented a list of potential projects

City council earmarked a little more than $162,000 for such projects in the 2019 budget, passed Dec. 11.

Projects include improvements to signage, infrastructure, and trails, with most offering short-term immediate results.

It was decided that a committee of three council members — Tony Bohrer, Chris Nichols, and Andrea Camp — will meet with city staff to flesh-out plans to offer business matching grant dollars for improvement and expansion projects.

The committee meeting is scheduled for 2 p.m. Monday, Jan. 14. The workshop will be posted, and the public is welcome to attend.

Clay Thorp contributed to this report. Contact Sasha Nelson at 970-875-1794 or snelson@CraigDailyPress.com.