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Down the drain: Officials face expensive water decision

Those frightened by news that McDuffie County's water had slightly higher than legal levels of contaminants need not be wary too much longer. Cleaner water will soon be on the way for the city/county water system.

County Commissioners voted to approve a filtration system during their Wednesday meeting, and the Thomson City Council will take up the matter at its Sept. 9 meeting.

"You can bat it around the table all you want, but it seems like to me we don't have any other choice," said Thomson Mayor Bob Knox of the plans to choose from a list of costly filtration systems.

The contaminants in question are formed when chlorine is used to rid water of bacteria. The chlorine reacts to organic materials in the water such as leaves or sticks. A potentially harmful byproduct forms when the organic material comes into contact with the chlorine.

The Environmental Protection Agency and the Environmental Protection Department are continuing to crack down on the level of contaminants as well as treatment byproducts. McDuffie County officials have until Sept. 19 to inform the EPA and EPD of their plans to address the problem.

Robin Chasman of the Athens-based engineering firm Chasman & Associates, who serves as a consultant to the water and sewer commission, made a presentation to local government officials recommending a granular activated carbon (GAC) filtration system to correct the problem.

The new filtration component would be added to the treatment facility after conventional treatment. The system, which looks like a large pool filter and works like a more advanced version of water filters people have on their home faucets, would eliminate organic material prior to chlorine treatments.

Mr. Chasman studied two other systems before recommending GAC. Nano filtration -- or reverse osmosis -- is more expensive and would eliminate 18 percent of the total water volume. Magnetic Ionic Exchange (MIEX) only exists is one plant in the world and is also cost prohibitive, according to Mr. Chasman.

"We can do this," said George Nichols, director of Thomson-McDuffie water facilities, during a meeting with city and county officials. "We know Nano filtration will work and we know GAC will too. I'd like to see the numbers on this MIEX before making a decision."

GAC will cost nearly $2.5 million for initial set up. The system will also cost over $369,000 per year to keep it up and running since the carbon in the filter will need to be replaced on a regular basis.

Water/sewer funds available from Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax dollars will most likely be spent upgrading the system to EPA and EPD standards. Local officials will have to find other ways to fund the project before construction, which is projected for completion in January of 2006.

In the meantime, officials said the water is safe to drink, and customers should not be alarmed.



Web posted on Thursday, September 2, 2004


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