MONTE VISTA — Last Thursday, City Manager Don Van Wormer told the Monte Vista City Council that the city is “in between a rock and a hard place” regarding the state’s requirement to chlorinate the City water system, and the last item to be voted on, chlorination, received unanimous approval.
He told the council, after departmental reports, that it would possibly exceed $10,000 to fight the state mandate to chlorinate, inclusive of attorney fees, expert witness testimony, and other related costs. He provided the Council with “eleven bullet points”, a list of points to consider, both pro and con, regarding chlorination.
Eyeing the pitfalls
“We have had a preliminary report from our engineers that suggest, at this time, without final engineering, that we could potentially come into compliance for around $150,000,” said Van Wormer.
“The most cost-effective solution, is to imagine, at each of our pump stations, that under the ground we create sort of an underground storage by putting in a series of rather large pipes, they could be four foot, five foot, sections of these manifold ‘em together and they act as an underground storage facility that would allow the disinfection to have the time necessary to stay in the water to have what they call the CT or contact time for the state.
"Now, we are under the assumption that there are some variables to be worked out, engineering-wise, but it’s very possible that we would be able to put in a very miniscule amount of chlorine in order to meet the state requirements. Discussions with the state indicated that the understand that the (99.99 percent disinfection that they like to see) is going to be somewhat of a complex or confusing issue, because, normally what you do is treat the water from the source to clean it up, to disperse it among out into the distribution system.
He said, in his opinion, the liability and risk exposure could come back into play, and that is his biggest concern, if it would cause a health problem, citing issues with the city “next door” (Alamosa). He admitted the odds of that happening, outbreaks, are minimal but possible. Another issue is that EPA would prevail, eventually, in requiring elimination of “any potential” of water contamination (by coliform bacteria). “This won’t go away.”
Mayor Jose “Art” Medina asked how much it would cost to replace all the City’s water lines, and Van Wormer guessed $20 million. Medina said that Alamosa’s Salmonella problem, “made ours a bigger problem.”
Councilor Jay Almquist asked if citizens would be (taxed or assessed) required to pay for chlorination. Van Wormer said other funding sources would be sought, and the state would work with the City on that issue.
“I think our hands are kinda’ tied,” said Medina, “I don’t see any way out of not chlorinating our water.”
“Legally, the problem, going in, is you’re trying to prove a negative,” said City Attorney Gene Farish, citing the four coliform samples, and trying to prove the system is safe. He said that they would fight the state mandate if the Council so desired.
Before making a motion to pursue chlorination, Almquist stated, “We could talk this thing to death.” The motion carried after being seconded by Councilor Rose Wilson. The decision was unanimous.
A difficult decision
The difficulty in this “in between a rock and a hard place,” as Van Wormer and citizens of Monte Vista have related, is in determining which is worse — chlorination for potential short term problems that probably won’t occur, but risking the health effects of chlorine use, or taking the chance that something might happen, similar to Alamosa’s recent Salmonella outbreak, and protecting the city coffers from liability and lawsuits should that happen. Van Wormer’s 11-point information sheet, provided to the council last Thursday, was, in his words, “to provide council with a summary of the information generated over the past few months as council, staff, and our engineers have grappled with this issue.”
The huge 'unknowns'
If the city contests the order (by the State of Colorado), the outcome is unknown. We could win or lose.
Costs of contesting are unknown but could exceed $10,000 for attorney’s fees and expert witness testimony, travel, meals, etc.
If the city wins, the better part of the community will be grateful
If the city wins, the cost of compliance is no longer an issue
If we lose, the cost of contesting (the state mandate) is lost
The state has made it clear they intend, over time, to pull all disinfection waivers
Monte Vista was one of 17 communities left in Colorado not chlorinating or disinfecting their water. Now there are 16.
The next City Council meeting will be held on April Fool’s Day, April 1.For the complete article see the 03-24-2010 issue.
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