Water rate increase on tap for Shepherdstown
Shepherdstown residents will soon see an increase of 8 percent on their water bill. This is the first rate increase in six years, and is necessary to pay for a new dedicated water line to transport water from the plant to water tanks with no service taps along the way.
Water customers have received letters from the Corporation of Shepherdstown regarding the ongoing issue of drinking water contaminants. The maximum contaminant level is 80 parts per billion of trihalomethanes (TTHMs), but the town saw a level of 88 parts per billion when the readings were averaged out over the last four quarters.
With the implementation of the changes to the water line, town officials say that it will be a step closer to fixing these violations.
“When the water leaves the water plant now, it doesn’t go to the water tanks first. It goes everywhere to meet the demand and then it goes to the water tanks,” said Charles Coe, water plant Chief Operator
“We put chlorine in the water at the water plant. Instead of there being chlorine in the water tanks, which there would be if it were a straight shot, it goes throughout the whole system,” said Mayor Jim Auxer, “so the free chlorine residual dissipates by the time it hits the water tanks.”
Coe explained, “We disinfect the water at the water plant. Free chlorine is the chlorine residual left in the water, so when it leaves the plant, the water remains bacteria free, maintaining its safety when it reaches your tap.”
“What’s happening now,” Coe continued, “is that the chlorine remains in the system so long that it dissipates. When that happens, we add more (chlorine). When that chlorine reacts with any organics that are left in the water like dead leaves, algae blooms, etc., the chlorine reacts with that and creates disinfection by products, TTHMs and haloacedic acids (HAA5s). The project is really a three-phase project,” said Coe “This is what has been recommended to us by our engineer, Jeff Ekstrom. The first part was to put an aeration system in the clear well where the disinfection happens. It’s all the finished water. The aeration will pull water from the bottom of the clear well and aerate it on top, hopefully releasing the TTHMs and it’ll lower those levels.”
“We’re doing that aeration now,” said Frank Welch, Director of Public Works “This is a first step, an easy step that we’ve put in place for only about $4,000.”
Coe continued, “The second step is where we are now…getting a better maintained chlorine residual throughout town. This is where the dedicated line comes in. The next step after that would be a whole new water treatment facility. That will be way down the road. In order to have a new water treatment plant, we need to have this dedicated line first.”
Due to the average median income of Shepherdstown residents, which is $62,000, the town does not qualify for state funding for this water line project.
The town has to borrow the money from the private market. Projected cost will be approximately $3.3 million with contingencies at an interest rate of 4.4 percent over 20-30 years.
“We’re at an 8 percent increase, but it could have been higher,” said Welch. “We don’t want to raise the rates either. Nobody wants to do that because we have to pay these rates too.”
“Just to be clear,” said Mayor Auxer, “this is 8 percent is just on the water portion of the bill, not the other parts of the bill. The average increase will be between $1.50 to $3.00 per customer, per minimum, depending on usage.”
Auxer continued, “We can’t just keep sending these letters out that says the water has these issues and not take any action on it for years. We need to act as soon as possible. When infrastructure projects need done, we move forward.”
This issue is not unique to Shepherdstown. Every water plant system along the Potomac that uses Potomac water runs into these same problems of organic material and resulting contaminants.
Ekstrom said there are several variables as to when the project will actually get started. The town still needs to obtain funds and put the rate increase in effect, but once started, it should be completed in under a year while still maintaining traffic flow.
The Corporation of Shepherdstown says that it is not necessary to use an alternative water supply, but if individuals have specific health concerns, to consult their physician.