Wed, April 08

What impact will new arsenic rule have on Valley communities?<br>

The Environmental Protection Agency’s new ruling raising acceptable arsenic standards in drinking water could have a negative impact on small Arizona and Verde Valley water companies.

The new regulation, currently being reviewed by the Bush administration, passed Jan. 16 changing the standard from 50 parts per billion to 10 parts per billion.

According to Paul Gardner, president of the Water Utilities Association of Arizona, the new regulations will impact 28 percent of all water companies in Arizona. Citing Arizona Water Company with 19-21 systems as an example, Gardner estimates compliance costs at $1 million. Arizona Water Company serves the Sedona area.

States east of the Mississippi will not feel the crunch of the new national standard as much as states west of the Mississippi with the exception of Michigan and the New England states. The reason: Arsenic leeches through rock into drinking sources, a common phenomenon in the rocky states of the West.

Gardner maintains that 30 states throughout the United States will have no problem. As a result, he said it’s difficult to get "empathy" for those states that will be highly impacted by the new ruling pushed through at the end of the Clinton administration.

He goes on to say it’s a public relations issue because the word "arsenic" is associated with something bad. And true to the trickle-down theory, consumers could feel the pinch in higher water rates.

According to a recent American Water Works Association newsletter, AWWA noted the new standard is identical to existing arsenic standards of the World Health Organization and the European Union, a move toward global drinking water standards. They noted that the new ruling is the most expensive treatment process making it one of the most costly drinking water regulations ever.

According to AWW spokesperson, Doug Marsano, they are hopeful that Congress will come to the rescue of small companies now that the standard has been set. What financial impact to taxpayers, he said, is too early to predict. He said there is no question that many small water companies may find the new ruling "cost prohibitive."

"We’re predicting $1.5 billion in capital and $600 million in management and annual costs to the industry."

Cottonwood Water Works, serving 4,200 customers in the Cottonwood and Clarkdale area, has arsenic levels ranging between 5 to 23 parts per billion, said Manager Chuck Garrison.

"It will be a killer on all the small companies. We don’t have the base to spread those costs over. The only plus is the time span. Hopefully there will be some modifications."

Under the new ruling, there is a five-year window for compliance. Smaller companies serving less than 3,300 customers could receive exemptions, with up to 14 years to comply.

Marsano said that there are already stirrings on Capitol Hill. Sen. Pete Domenici of New Mexico has submitted a bill to make the new ruling void until there are more substantial scientific studies performed. Marsano said the Appropriations Committee is also expressing concern over the high costs of implementation.

"We want to work with interested individuals in Congress to protect the public health without breaking the backs of small towns," he said.

Garrison expressed concern on how the decision was made: "Ten is ridiculous. The problem is they didn’t base it on good sound science."

Big Park Water Company’s Steve Gudovic agrees. Big Park Water Company serves 2,600 customers in the Village of Oak Creek. Its current arsenic levels are at 25-30 parts per billion.

Gudovic, who also sits on the board of directors for the WUAA, said the studies were performed in Chili, Argentine and the Philippines. He said they want the EPA to proceed with more comprehensive studies in the United States.

"We’re not against the new rules, but the lack of research to support the new rules," he remarked.

He’s estimating the water bills could be doubled or even tripled.

Jerome’s municipal water company serving 280 customers may not have a problem, according to Ron Ballatore. the public works director said 1999 lab tests reveal less than 5 parts per billion in arsenic in Jerome’s water sources.

"It will change the way we test, but it won’t cause us a lot of grief," he said.

Camp Verde has struggled with this issue in the past. In the late 1990s, the Camp Verde Water System was forced to build new wells because of arsenic contaminants.

"If it stays at 10 parts per billion, our current new wells will be under that standard," company official Stan Bullard said.

He said though his company will be required to upgrade one line through Verde River Estates, an area serving 90 customers. Bullard estimates the one line could cost the company $500,000.

"We’re waiting on the president and the bill (Domenici’s) to repeal it. Who knows what is going to happen?" he said.

According to Gardner, the Water Utilities Association of Arizona is looking to state congressmen to help fight the battle. He said several are already "up to speed" on the arsenic issue and the high costs associated with the new regulations. He said if the process could be "slowed down" five years, it would allow technology time to catch up with the new standards making the costs less prohibitive.

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