Tue, April 07

Water company awaits <br>new arsenic standards

Although not what several water companies had hoped for, President Clinton could sign a new more stringent national standard for allowable arsenic in drinking water before he leaves office Jan. 20.

Paul Gardner, president of the Water Utilities Association of Arizona, said that his group like many others especially those in the southwest, continues to lobby against the proposed changes.

In May, the EPA proposed slashing the current arsenic standards from 50 parts per billion to 5 and at one point as low as 3 ppb, but met with a momentum of opposition.

He said that states east of the Mississippi are not facing the same types of problems that states west of the Mississippi will face with the new regulations.

"Arsenic is naturally occurring in the earth’s crust – probably 20 to 50 parts per billion. There are higher concentrates of arsenic when you’re in rocky terrain such as the Red Rocks of Sedona or mining areas where you find copper and gold," Gardner said.

Waterweek, a publication of the American Water Works Association, recently reported that while EPA has not formally announced its selected maximum contaminant level, reports indicate that the EPA has backed off its proposed standard of 5 ppb. They instead now favor 10 ppb reducing the current standard by 80 percent.

A Jan. 5 issue states that the National Rural Water Association claims the rule "will likely be one of the most costly drinking water regulations ever proposed, requiring nearly 2,300 communities to reduce arsenic, one of many naturally occurring elements in drinking water to a level of 10 parts per billion."

Gardner said, "It’s been our water associations’ goal if they did anything they would set arsenic standards at 20 parts per billion until the scientific studies came in" and went on to say, "The EPA is not allowed to set maximum contaminant levels based on junk science."

He said there is already talk if the proposal is signed that some groups could take the EPA to court to determine if it can set such standards before "scientific studies are completed." He said more conclusive studies are expected by year’s end.

He said the reduction in allowable arsenic has been supported by environmental groups who would like to have zero tolerance, which he maintains is unfounded and unsupported scientifically. He said he believes Clinton will sign the new standards at 10 ppb as a repayment to those environmental groups that have supported him throughout his term in office.

According to Gardner, the proposed new standards are based on studies performed in Taiwan and South America and have not taken into account several factors that could contribute to false statistics.

He said arsenic has been under review since the mid-1990s, but wasn’t in the forefront until recently. Congress gave EPA a mandate to review its existing standards on various contaminants to see if they should be adjusted. The big concern, he said, is certain types of cancer.

The WUAA has 150 Arizona members ranging from very small water companies to those with customers up to the 30,000 range. Members of the group are governed by the Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC) that sets their rates and monitors water service guidelines. Small local independent water companies like the Camp Verde Water System belong to the state-wide group and like others must comply with the new standards if Clinton signs the new proposal.

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

Faced with arsenic problems in the past, the small water company was forced to drill two new wells in the late 1990s in order to comply with the EPA arsenic standards. Bullard said its two new wells, which serve the majority of Camp Verde, can double its capacity without additional infrastructure.

He went on to say, however, that it’s not all smooth sailing with the new higher standards. He said they would have "to do something with Verde River Estates" area with its 36 connections and about 90 customers, which could prove to be a costly proposition. He said they would have a "five-year window" in order to comply however.

Bullard estimates the one line could cost the company $500,000 to run to wells located near Steve Coury’s car dealership. Additionally, the installation would involve a lengthy permit process because the line must go under the Verde River. Permits would be required through government agencies such as the U.S. Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife and the Arizona Game and Fish, according to Bullard.

On more than one occasion, the Town of Camp Verde has expressed an interest in purchasing the water company. The council even went to bat for the water company this summer by sending a letter to the EPA objecting to the more stringent proposed arsenic drinking water standards.

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