Sat, April 04

Arsenic compliance sought by town

Mayor Brenda Hauser doesn't want to lose another year in an effort to comply with federal arsenic limits in Camp Verde's drinking water. Although a deadline looming more than five years off may not incite panic, the town has already frittered away one year and the clock keeps ticking.

One year ago last month, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s new ruling began to impact small Arizona and Verde Valley water companies by lowering the acceptable levels of arsenic in drinking water.

The federal ruling changed the standard from 50 parts per billion to 10 parts per billion. According to the Water Utilities Association of Arizona, the new regulations impacted 28 percent of all water companies in Arizona. Statewide compliance costs were estimated to be at least $1 billion.

With the window for compliance gradually closing, Hauser wants Camp Verde to clean up its drinking water sooner rather than later. Although the state recently extended the deadline in order to give municipalities more time to comply, Hauser is still concerned that the town may not meet a new deadline of September 2006.

"We wasted a year of our five years," Hauser said.

Camp Verde is poised to purchase the private water company, Camp Verde Water System Inc., thus transferring the responsibility of compliance to the town.

She continued, "The town isn't involved at this moment, except of course that we eventually have to make sure that the water is in compliance. We are in negotiations to purchase the water company."

Earlier reports indicated that smaller companies serving less than 3,300 customers could receive exemptions giving them up to 14 years to comply. Hauser said that Camp Verde would likely acquire the local water company before 2006, which burdens the town with lowering arsenic levels.

Asked when the transfer of ownership from private to public would take place, Hauser answered, "I'm not sure when; it's in the condemnation phase now."

Not all Verde Valley towns are under the same deadline pressure challenging Camp Verde. Jerome’s municipal water company, which serves 280 customers, may not have a problem. Lab tests in 1999 lab tests revealed less than 5 parts per billion of arsenic in Jerome’s water sources.

Conversely, Cottonwood Water Works, which serves 4,200 customers in the Cottonwood and Clarkdale area, had arsenic levels ranging between 5 to 23 parts per billion when the new regulations were approved. 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.

The town has been prepared to take over Camp Verde Water System by eminent domain since at least November of last year. Previous negotiations to purchase the company outright began in 1999. However, there was a difference of opinion on the value and price of the company.

Town Manager John Roberts estimated the value of the water company at about $3.5 to $4 million, in stark contrast to the $8 million price tag suggested by owner Jim Bullard. Roberts said the town arrived at the lower figure based on appraisal methodology provided by a large engineering firm hired by the town.

Roberts has confirmed that a financial commitment on behalf of the town would be subject to voter approval. Although Camp Verde voters gave town officials the authority several years ago to obtain utilities, bond authority would still have to be voted upon.

States east of the Mississippi did not feel the effects of the new national arsenic standard as much as states west of the Mississippi, with the exception of Michigan and some New England states.

About 30 states did not have to undergo changes as a result of the new ruling, which was approved near the end of the Clinton administration and was also reviewed by the Bush administration. The reason is that arsenic leeches through rock into drinking sources, a phenomenon found mostly in the rocky states of the West.

The new American standard is identical to existing arsenic standards established by the World Health Organization and the European Union, which represents a move toward global drinking water standards in first-world countries.

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