E'town considering chloramine conversion

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Water district plans to convert disinfectant process to fall in line with Louisville Water connection

Scott Fiepke on Monday recommended Elizabethtown City Council convert its water treatment process from chlorine to chloramine, a disinfectant created when chlorine is combined with ammonia.

The change is necessitated by the decision of Hardin County Water District No. 2 to convert its system from chlorine to chloramine by 2015 to take on water supplies from Louisville Water Co., a larger system that has been treated with chloramine for decades. Elizabethtown contracts with HCWD No. 2 for water supplies.

The estimated cost to develop the project and convert the City Springs and Freeman Lake water treatment plants is estimated at $505,560 by Brent Tippey with HDR Engineers.

Tippey said a full-scale conversion offers several advantages, such as better taste and odor, lower disinfectant byproducts and regional compatibility with Louisville Water and HCWD No. 2.

There are some disadvantages, he said, including some taste and odor issues if improperly blended. He also said chloramine is a weaker disinfectant that requires complex blending.

But Tippey said the conversion should not be more than a minor nuisance for customers.

A conversion study authorized by local water districts showed chloramine-treated water converted to chlorine performs poorly while a chlorine-to-chloramine conversion has proven successful.

Fiepke, engineer for the city’s water and wastewater department, said his greatest concern with a chloramine conversion is the operational burden and the lack of experience his staff has in working with chloramines. However, he said they will respond and adapt.

Tippey produced some alternatives to consider if the city declines to fully convert to chloramines: Negotiating out of its contract with HCWD No. 2 or the isolation of its system, which would serve some customers wholesale chloraminated water and others chlorinated water.

James Jeffries, general manager of HCWD No. 2, said he cannot guarantee the district could fully take care of customers if the system was isolated because retail customers take priority over wholesale customers.

Fiepke first was leaning toward system isolation because of easier execution, but he said a flood that shut down one treatment plant and the 2009 ice storm that shut down the entire system concerned him about the mechanical integrity of the operation in the midst of disaster. As a result, he is unsure if the city can realistically and consistently meet the demand for all of its customers at all times in an isolated system.

He said voiding the contract with the water district would be unwise because the city would have to find alternative water sources and hire more operators, leading to more expense.

The remaining options included maximizing water treatment plant production and exiting the water business entirely.

Councilwoman Edna Berger favored the latter choice, saying she found little reason to remain in the business because of the financial burden and the inevitable need to raise rates to pay for the conversion.

Finance Director Steve Park, though, said the city recently raised rates, which has allowed for growth and capital improvements of this nature.

“It won’t affect our rates,” Park said.

Jeffries, likewise, said the district has not raised its retail rates since 2007 and has no immediate plans to do so because of the conversion. The wholesale rate, he said, will be reviewed for possible changes.

Other council members said they saw no need to exit water operations because Elizabethtown has the ability to hold or control rates by owning its own system. Should it sell the system, it would lose this power.

The water district pursued a connection with Louisville Water Co. because the White Mills Water Treatment Plant is nearing its capacity of 8.1 million gallons per day and likely will need another source by 2016.

The district has entered a long-term purchase agreement with Louisville Water effective Jan. 1, 2016, and plans to be fully converted by summer of 2015. The district must construct a pipeline connection to Louisville Water’s system that will cost around $10.5 million, roughly $6.5 million of which will be funded by state grants. Jeffries said the district will have to finance the remainder and build a pump station for another $1.2 million.

Once online, Louisville Water must provide a minimum capacity of 2 million gallons per day to the water district, which has agreed to purchase 60 million gallons in the first year of the agreement, according to Jeffries.

Mike Bell, chairman of the water district’s board of directors, said he understands the council’s concerns because it took months to convince him a chloramine conversion was the needed route to take.

“We value you as a customer,” Bell said to the city.

Fiepke said the city’s system has a 6-million-gallon-per-day capacity with the recorded daily maximum usage tipping out at 5.9 million gallons. The 2012 average was 4.6 million gallons per day, he said.

In addressing the council, Fiepke admitted he was not enamored with any of the alternatives.

“I don’t really see any good news here,” he said. “I don’t like any of the alternatives.”

Marty Finley can be reached at (270) 505-1762 or mfinley@thenewsenterprise.com.