Part 3 of 3 exploring how Hannibal's water is treated and what may change as a result of Proposition 1.
On Tuesday, April 4, voters in Hannibal will have the opportunity to express their opinion regarding the use of chloramines as a water disinfectant.
If voters say “no,” chloramines — a mixture of chlorine and a small amount of ammonia — will continue to be injected just prior to distribution by the Board of Public Works (BPW).
If voters say “yes” to discontinuing the practice of using chloramines in the water system, the BPW will have to stop within three months to be in compliance with the language of the proposition.
Asked how the city will respond if Prop 1 passes, Bob Stevenson, general manager of the BPW, sees two possible scenarios.
“Within 90 days we’d remove the chloramine and replace it with chlorine. Beyond that, we would begin the process to redesign our treatment plant to use another form of treatment,” he said. “That redesign will probably involve GAC (Granulated Activated Carbon) at some point in time. The time frame to convert to a new treatment process will be four to five years.”
Stevenson is quick to note that such a course of action may not prove palatable to water quality regulators.
“It is possible the USEPA (United States Environmental Protection Agency) will not wait that long since we will be in chronic violation of their standards and they may force us to return to chloramine or some other remedy of their choosing which I cannot predict,” he said.
The other potential scenario takes the BPW in a vastly different direction.
“The city goes immediately after the election to a judge to get an injunction against the referendum in whole or in part since the approved ordinance would put the city in violation of state regulations which in itself is illegal,” said Stevenson. “Having secured an injunction the HBPW would proceed in due pace to modify the treatment plant to incorporate GAC. During that four years we would plan to continue to feed chloramine as we are doing now.”
While as of late February, James Lemon, attorney for both the city and BPW, had not been formally asked to prepare such an injunction, he did say he believes “that legal action will be required” if the proposition is approved.
“The ordinance sets an unrealistic time line to stop using chloramines,” said Lemon. “Any action changing how you treat water has to be approved by DNR (Department of Natural Resources). In order to obtain such approval, there have to be studies, etc, all of which have to be fully approved by DNR. There is no set time line for how long DNR will take to approve this, but realistically, there is no way that BPW can legally comply with the ordinance. I told the drafters that and they flat refused to consider putting in a provision that would allow the BPW to get DNR approval of a new system of water treatment.”
How much of an impact passage of Prop 1 could have on the bill of average residential customers is hard to estimate, according to Stevenson.
“That depends on how big the fine from the MoDNR (Missouri Department of Natural Resources) will be when we willfully go into violation on disinfection byproducts of chlorine,” he said. “I predict that fine will be $1,000 per day to start and may go higher. That would translate into about $4 per month, per customer.”
Also unclear is what the cost of a water system change would cost overall.
“The study by Jacobs Engineering will answer this,” said Stevenson, referring to a study commissioned by the City Council last fall. The purpose of the study was to determine the cost and feasibility of implementing a GAC system.
According to the Jacobs report, which can be found at both the websites of the city and BPW, it would cost the BPW just under $2 million to retrofit GAC into the existing filters, which would require MDNR regulatory approval in at least two areas, which could make the cheapest of the three options infeasible.
The annual operating cost of the GAC retrofit option is estimated at $439,200.
If GAC filters are used as second stage filters the project cost jumps to between $9.3 million and $10.5 million, depending on how many millions of gallons of water the system will be capable of producing per day.
The annual operating costs of these two options would range from $341,000 and $426,000.
Depending on which GAC system is employed, the study estimates the monthly increase to a customer using 5,000 gallons a month would range from $3.96 to $7.72.
Jacobs notes that the projected rate increases do not include the costs for improvements to the distribution system that will be necessary.
Representatives of Jacobs Engineering will present the results of the study at the Roland Fine Arts Center, on the campus of Hannibal-LaGrange University, at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 22.
Reach reporter Danny Henley at firstname.lastname@example.org .