Livingston OKs work on well

mnorth@mercedsunstar.comOctober 30, 2012 

— City Council members took a step toward tackling one of their most problematic wells to improve water quality in Livingston during Tuesday night's meeting.

Council members voted 4-1 to approve a $220,500 contract with Filtronics Inc. of Anaheim to install new filtration material in well No. 16, which has been plagued by high levels of arsenic in recent years.

The city shut down the well in 2010 because the arsenic removal system the city had in place was exhausted and the treated water started exceeding maximum contaminant levels.

Councilman Frank Vierra voted against the item Tuesday because he wanted to see more options presented to the council after the item went through the city's Utility Rates Stakeholders' Committee -- a commission composed of industrial, commercial and residential utility users.

After Vierra's comments, Councilman Gurpal Samra noted that the committee discussed the proposal at great length and did a thorough job finding the best option for the city to address the arsenic problem in well No. 16.

Arsenic is a semi-metallic element that's odorless and tasteless, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Exposure to it can lead to cancer, skin discoloration, nausea, vomiting, blindness and partial paralysis.

The element enters drinking water through natural deposits in the earth as well as from agricultural and industrial practices, according to the EPA. Livingston's arsenic comes from natural sources.

The EPA set the arsenic standard for drinking water at 10 parts per billion in 2006 to protect the public from the contaminant's harmful health effects and long-term exposure.

Nanda Gottiparthy, Livingston's city engineer, said there are no immediate risks from the city's wells. The operational ones are within state-regulated limits and meeting water demands.

But Gottiparthy said it's still important to get well No. 16 operational again, in part to allow reserve capacity in case of unexpected events.

"Right now, even in the last summer without 16 operational, we did OK," he said. "We want it operational for peak demand."

Well No. 16, located on the north side of town, has a treatment system in place, but the new filter material will return it to operational condition, he said. The city only plans to use the well when needed to extend the life of the filter, which is expected to last for two years or more, depending on usage.

The cost of replacing the filter material after it expires would be about $175,000, according to city records.

Though the total contract approved by the council isn't the cheapest from an initial standpoint, a cost analysis showed it was the best financial option in the long run, Gottiparthy noted. The cost of the new filter material will come from the city's water enterprise fund.

The city is looking at other long-term solutions to water woes, such as new wells, a centralized treatment location and the possibility of purchasing surface water from the Merced Irrigation District.

Reporter Mike North can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or mnorth@mercedsunstar.com.

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