Foster Lake in 2017. Wells near the lake are producing contaminants. File photo

IWD aware of the problem back in September

Last week, the Idyllwild Water District announced that the chlorine needed to remove iron and manganese from its well waters has created an excess of potentially dangerous byproducts. Sometimes the chlorine in the water also interacts with naturally occurring organic matter and produces these byproduct chemicals.

The district, state, as well as federal environmental officials have labeled these byproducts — trihalomethanes (TTHM) and haloacetic acids (HAA) — as contaminants; but said there is no immediate danger or cause for alarm.

Health problem

The Federal Center for Disease Control and Prevention states, “The classifications of possible human carcinogens come from data that is extrapolated from research on animals that may or may not be relevant to human cancer … there is not enough research to classify them as non-carcinogenic. There is inadequate epidemiological evidence of carcinogenicity in humans for all four compounds.”

CDC reports that there is “inadequate evidence for human carcinogencity” for each of these byproducts.

California emphasizes that consumption “over many years” may lead to cancer or other problems.

“Because these are classified as ‘chronic’ (not ‘acute’ contaminants), the water district may continue to supply water to its customers with continuous notification (updated quarterly since monitoring is required quarterly),” wrote Chun Huang, associate sanitary engineer for the State Water Resources Control Board

In 2011, 201 large water systems throughout the country detected TTHM or HHA in the water from chlorine disinfection. However, only one exceeded the Environmental Protection Agency standard.

Cause

Chlorine is a common disinfectant for well water and used by water districts throughout the country. The reaction between the chlorine and organic material in the water can produce TTHM and HAA as byproducts.

The common sources of the naturally occurring organic contaminants are decaying plants, leaves and other dead materials in surface water.

However, as the World Health Organization has written, “Infectious diseases caused by pathogenic bacteria, viruses, protozoa and helminths are the most common and widespread health risk associated with drinking-water.” Removing these health threats is the higher priority, according to all health agencies.

Personal solution

As IWD said in its notice, “You do not need to use an alternative (e.g., bottled) water supply.” Research points to the potential effects of consuming TTHMs and HAAs as cumulative over a period of years.

A filtration system may be used, if the individual is worried. “Carbon filtration systems come in various form, including pitchers, faucet-mounted attachments and larger systems installed on or under countertops,” said the notice.

Nevertheless, IWD suggests individuals with health problems, such as cancer or kidney or liver ailments, may want to consult their physician.

IWD  action

Although the state directed IWD to begin quarterly testing in 2017, the district’s most recent capital improvement plan does not include any funding for possible efforts to reduce the disinfectant byproducts.

The high test results, which were found in September, were not sufficient to identify a problem, according to Jack Hoagland, IWD general manager.

Describing the district’s response, he wrote, “We started making adjustments to the process to lower the potential for Disinfection By-product formation.” Although the SWRCB supported these steps, the TTHM and HAA chemicals persisted.

In the spring, the district initiated efforts to identify the sources of the organic material interacting with the chlorine.

District’s solution

After getting the June confirmation that the water supply still exceeded the maximum contaminant levels for both TTHM and HHA, IWD has contracted with an engineering firm to evaluate what options might be implemented and to develop a plan.

According to Hoagland, no preliminary results will be available for the board’s July 18 meeting and he is unsure when a draft might be presented.

The formation of these compounds can happen in many ways and in different parts of the chlorination process. It could occur during treatment, in storage or while being distributed. The process is influenced by acidic levels, time and water temperature. So, there may be multiple solutions or steps to mitigate the problem.

However, IWD must submit a plan to the SWRCB, which oversees drinking water, by Sept. 10. In its citation, the SWRCB ordered the district to have a “corrective action plan identifying improvements to the water system designed to address the elevated [byproduct] levels and ensure that IWD delivers water that meets all primary drinking water standards.”

Some water experts recommend installing a granular-activated carbon system when natural organic matter may be the cause of the halogen products. Fern Valley Water District did that in 2004 with complete success.

Water sampling process

The TTHM and HAA concentrations are not consistent throughout IWD’s water supply. The recent results, which exceeded the State’s MCL, are an average of samples taken at two different locations — Lower Pine Crest and about two-thirds of the way to the end of Doubleview Drive.

At the Doubleview site, the results were well below the state MCL, but above at the Lower Pine Crest site and above average.

IWD had taken samples on June 1. These results, which exceeded the MCLs, were received on June 15. The state also receives the results of water-quality testing from all water districts.

On July 9, SWRCB issued the citation to IWD.

When did IWD know?

Board President Dr. Charles “Chip” Schelly said he learned of the problem a few weeks ago. Hoagland said he mentioned it to the board in March or April; but the minutes of those meetings do not mention the chlorine byproduct issue.

Another director said he learned of it in December 2017 and a third also said he learned of it last year when the district began using more water from the downtown wells as opposed to the Foster Lake wells.

In February, Hoagland told the board, “[Foster Lake] is very low but the wells are doing fine and [I’m] very comfortable with water production,” according to the minutes of the Feb. 21 meeting.

However, the citation says the HAA sample results in September 2017 exceeded the MCL. Consequently, the state required IWD to begin quarterly testing for these chemicals. Prior to that, IWD was taking annual samples, according to Hoagland.

Nine months later, IWD alerted its customers to the presence of these chemicals. This alert was a press release, which was the basis of a story in the July 12 edition of the Town Crier. However, the citation states, “On or before July 13, 2018, notify all affected persons served by IWD of the violation.”

Because of confusion with the printing company, the notices to customers were not mailed until July 13.

What next?

Even though most health officials recognize that TTHMs and HAAs can form from disinfecting public water systems, and their presence may exceed federal and state standards, the individual consumer ought to be advised of the situation in order to make their own decision on how to react until the threat is mitigated.

This subject is on the IWD agenda for its Wednesday, July 18 meeting at 6:30 p.m. in the IWD board room.

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