Withdrawal of arsenic regulations pleases agencies | RecordCourier.com
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Withdrawal of arsenic regulations pleases agencies

by Jeff Munson

Water agencies in the Carson Valley expressed relief over the withdrawal of a federal mandate that would have lowered arsenic standards for the nation’s drinking water supplies.

While public safety remains a key concern to agencies, the cost to individual water districts to meet the standards proposed under the mandate would have been staggering, water officials said.

“We’re talking millions of dollars,” said Ed James, manager of the Carson Water Subconservancy District, which serves as an information resource and regional liaison for the Carson River watershed and has overseen and funded numerous water-related studies.

On Tuesday, the Environmental Protection Agency announced it is withdrawing the new standards that would reduce allowable levels of arsenic in drinking water by 80 percent until a more thorough review is finished.

The new drinking water rule was intended to update an arsenic standard that has been in effect for nearly 60 years. It would have cut the acceptable levels of arsenic in drinking water from 50 parts per billion to 10 parts per billion. Arsenic is both a naturally occurring substance and industrial byproduct. Environmentalists have argued for years that the arsenic standard set in 1942 should be lowered.

The announcement came, ironically, a day before the Subconservancy District unveiled a draft report on how the new drinking water standards would affect Carson Valley water agencies and what measures they would have to take to meet the mandate.

While the study is still viable, the announcement puts action on hold, James said. The study, done in four reports, cost $158,000 and took about five months to complete.

In the report’s executive summary, the consultant suggests linking the municipal water systems in Carson Valley through pipelines would be a cost-effective alternative to meet the mandate.

“This integrated solution would essentially make use of existing good quality wells in Gardnerville to provide resources to affected water service areas in the Carson Valley, via pipeline links,” the report stated. “Some combination of linking water service areas and developing new arsenic-free wells appears to be the optimal and most cost-effective solution in the Carson Valley area, rather than individual service areas attempting to mitigate affected groundwater supplies on their own.”

James said he will be taking the report to local water providers within the coming months.

Still, even if the EPA had not announced its withdrawal of the mandate, water districts would have had five years to comply.

The reversal means a wait and see approach by the Gardnerville Ranchos General Improvement District, said District Manager Bob Spellberg.

“For now it is business as usual,” Spellberg said. “We will go on the testing required by the state and wait and see what happens and then react to the final ruling.”

The cost to meet the mandate for the GRGID customers could have meant $10 to $22 a month more on their utility bills, Spellberg said.

The GRGID has eight wells, six that are in operation and two in reserve. Four of the six wells pump water that is below the 10 parts per billion, while another well is in compliance with the 50 parts per billion, but the level fluctuates depending upon the time of the year, Spellberg said.

To meet the EPA standards, the GRGID was looking at new forms of technology to bring the questionable wells into compliance. In the meantime, the GRGID will be busy this summer with steel water line replacements, thanks to a $3.2 million grant the district received from the state.

For the town of Minden, arsenic has not been a problem in its water supply, said Sheila Byington, the town’s office manager.

“It’s never been an issue for us,” she said.

And in neighboring Gardnerville, the town water company’s seven wells already meet the 10 parts per billion standard proposed by the EPA, reported water manager Larry Clendenen.

Meanwhile, Senator Harry Reid on Tuesday blasted the reversal, saying the decision puts the public at risk of drinking unhealthy amounts of the contaminant.

“It is totally outrageous that three days before this rule was to be implemented, the Bush administration has backed away from protecting public health,” Reid said in a statement. “In abandoning this new standard, the EPA is ignoring the very real threat to human health posed by the levels of arsenic found in drinking water.”