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04-29-03: Councilors trying to improve water
The Daily Standard
    Celina is moving full speed ahead on finding a fix to the city's drinking water troubles.
    The city council approved test well digging at a Monday meeting and may invest in a new treatment option that could give the existing water plant a few more years of life and, possibly, get the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency off the city's back.
    The EPA recently issued Celina its final findings and orders, a document citing the city for violations to EPA laws on the quality of its drinking water and the orders it must follow to fix the violations. Safety Service Director Mike Sovinski presented the final document to council members meeting Monday.
    More than a year ago the EPA issued its first draft of the finding and orders, pointing out the city has had repeated disinfectant byproduct violations. Specifical-ly, the city has maintained high levels of trihalomethanes (THMs) in the water on several occasions in the last 10 years.
    The orders have evolved to allow the city more options and time to fix the problem. Sovinski, explaining the orders, said the city has 18 months to show the EPA it can bring water quality levels into compliance. If done, the EPA may be willing to forgo the remaining orders, which direct the city to begin construction of a new plant by 31 months.
    "This is as good as it gets," Sovinski said of a year's worth of negotiating with the EPA.
    Officials have investigated fine-tuning the existing ozone treatment operation at the water plant to lower THMs, which form when chlorine reacts with dissolved organic material in the source water. The EPA believes THMs cause gastric cancers and problems.
    Sovinski on Monday said the level of dissolved material overwhelms the ozone system.
    Mayor Paul Arnold an-nounced a company is interested in setting up a pilot test of its treatment system with a mobile unit at the water plant. It involves clarifying tanks using a different method than currently used. The company would draw lake water through the clarifiers and test its effectiveness against Celina's water quality requirements.
     The mayor said he is hopeful the new clarifying system, combined with the ozone treatment, could bring THMs to a consistent legal level. It would "buy us time," he said.
    Sovinski said the prospect is "encouraging."
    The administration said there are no cost estimates for this pilot test yet.
    Council members Monday passed the first reading of an emergency ordinance raising sewer rates by 24 percent over two years, 12 percent in 2003 and 12 percent in 2004.
    Councilwoman Sharon LaRue, who alone voted against the increase, noted that water customers in eastern Jefferson Township already pay 20 percent higher rates than in-city customers.
    LaRue said she received calls from "irate" eastern Jefferson Township residents, "because they can't even use their water and they're getting an increase.
    "The quality of water there is much worst than in the city," LaRue said.
    Sovinski said the city has taken steps to improve the rusty water issues east of Celina, "and it's greatly improved." He also noted the county commissioners efforts of investigating a separate treatment plant for the area.
    After administration ex-plained that water usage has remained flat during the last several years, and the cost of running the sewer has increased every year, councilman Ron Hammons asked, "from a layman's standpoint, what's happening?"
    Wastewater Superintendent Mike Lenhart explained that sewer income is tied to water usage, and "the industry itself has changed." He said since he started in the field in the 1970s, water-saving devices have been implemented on sinks, shower heads, toilets and all other water devices.
    Sovinski noted that if even one major industrial user switches to water-saving devices, it makes a big impact on consumption.
    Councilman Collin Bryan noted the utilities committee was considering tying a 4 percent increase to the ordinance for 2005 and 2006, but pulled back, partly because that may not be enough.
    "Expenses may continue to spiral up," he said. "The infrastructure problem is going crazy in the United States, it's a national trend of costs increasing."
    Lenhart also listed the department's major improvement needs, noting the EPA could issue findings and orders at any time against the sewer department for having a constricted laboratory. The EPA has been "writing up" the city for having a small laboratory since before 1990, Lenhart said.
    The ordinance was passed to second reading, LaRue voted against it, stating "it's too convoluted right now."
    In other business, council members passed an emergency resolution in support of the property tax levy and income tax issue put on the May 6 ballot by Celina City Schools.


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