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A deeper look at water treatment and its infrastructure
|Messenger photo by Sean V. Lehosit
Andrew Green, plant operator for Aqua Ohio, tests tap water for its hardness level at a water treatment facility in Prairie Township. While the level of iron and maganese is electronically monitored by the facility, tap water is double checked for quality control.
According to a study by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), Ohio needs to invest $9.7 billion toward drinking water infrastructure over the next 20 years.
Ed Kolodziej, Jr., president of Aqua Ohio, said this is a key issue throughout the United States. He said there are 100-year-old pipes in the country, due to distribution systems being installed and ignored for decades.
“You need a systematic way (to) invest in them,” Kolodziej said.
Aqua Ohio serves approximately 1,500 customers in the Lake Darby subdivision in Prairie Township. Aqua Ohio has invested around $308,000 toward its local facility, said Jeff LaRue, external affairs manager for Aqua Ohio.
LaRue said upgrades included converting from gas to safer liquid chlorine for disinfection, deterring corrosion on pipes and valves by adding orthophosphate, the rehabilitation of the water well and increased ability to control water softness through electronic monitoring.
“We endeavor to replace valves, pipes, and hydrants a little at a time,” Kolodziej said.
Unlike roadways, electric and school infrastructures, the aging pipes and treatment facilities are unseen. According to the ASCE, an estimated 7 billion gallons of water is lost per day throughout the country due to leaking pipes.
“It’s difficult for communities to raise rates on their watch for something they don’t see,” said Greg Odell, area manager for Aqua Ohio
The company’s strategy is to fix small parts of its distribution system to avoid huge rate increases, which take residents by surprise, LaRue said.
In May, the water treatment facility was purchased from Ohio American Water. During negotiations, Ohio American Water wanted to increase resident’s monthly service charge to $11.50 per month, LaRue said.
Kolodziej said he attended public meetings and listened to community concerns, including the poor economic timing of a rate increase. The end result was Aqua Ohio rolling back its service charge from $9.50 per month to $8.55 per month.
According to Kolodziej, they keep customers in mind when making investments, also helping to keep rates affordable.
Aqua Ohio officials removed a pay-in-person site in Westerville, which was out of the way for residents, and now allow them to pay their bill at any Western Union.
Aqua Ohio also decided against painting over the Ohio American Water logo on its water tower, which would cost approximately $100,000 to cover and repaint.
The Ohio General Assembly is working on House Bill 379, which would allow water providers to replace or repair aging equipment, but also spreads out rate increases for customers. Kolodziej said it is a long-term plan that focuses on fixing infrastructure.
“What struck me were the regulations as they stand today focus on valves, pipes and hydrants, but what about facilities and water treatment plants?” Kolodziej said.
The Ohio Revised Code caps infrastructure improvement surcharges at 3 percent of the rates. The new legislation would expand what types of capital improvements can be included in surcharges and bump the rate cap to 4.25 percent.
How is water treated?
Water is consumed for a variety of tasks, from washing dishes, to doing laundry and bathing. But what happens to the water before it arrives on tap?
The Lake Darby Water Treatment Facility produces 250,000 gallons of water per day, said Andrew Green, plant manager.
Green said the first step of treating water once it is pulled from the well, is the removal of iron and manganese. These two minerals corrode pipes and stain clothes.
According to Green, minerals are reduced from approximately 425-mg per liter to 5-mg per liter. He said the plant places large emphasis on the hardness of water. If the water is too hard, it will deposit minerals on pipes, but if water is too soft, it eats away at the pipes.
The facility electronically tracks the hardness of its water. If the parts per million reaches too high, the plant automatically shuts down until the problem is diagnosed and resolved.
One part per million is similiar to one penny out of $10,000.
After the softening process, phosphates and chlorine are injected into the distribution system. This deters rust and removes bacteria. LaRue said Aqua Ohio also monitors for more than 200 compounds.
Green said, before the water leaves the facility, it is blended with well water by 25 percent, to balance the level of softness.
“There’s a sweet spot where it’s great for consumption and won’t corrode your pipes,” Kolodziej said.
Improving water efficiency at home
Once water reaches a residence, there are a number of ways to improve efficiency and maintenance.
According to Kolodziej, some residents damage their pipes by using water softeners. He said customers should bypass water softeners, because the process is already performed by Aqua Ohio.
LaRue said unplugging the device is not good enough and will result in a smell. Stagnant water will collect and be pulled through the device.
Residents can also reduce lost water by checking for leaky toilets, LaRue said. This can be tested by adding food coloring to the back of a commode and observing the area around the toilet.
LaRue added, low flow fixtures and appliances cut water usage up to 50 percent.
Anyone old enough to stay home alone should also know where the water cut off valve is and how to use it in the case of an emergency.
Notice to residents
Aqua Ohio will open its hydrants and flush the system on Oct. 11. This is performed twice a year to remove mineral buildups, said Jeff LaRue, external affairs manager. Residents are recommended to avoid doing laundry or running hot water on this day. The pressure can stir up iron that will stain clothes. Running hot water will also pull minerals into residents’ hot water tank.
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