Managing the Village water
- Published: December 1, 2011
The blackened, crumbly bolts that hold together the 16-inch distribution main in the pump room of the Village water treatment plant tell the whole story. The Village water plant is old and challenged, and while it functions to treat a safe municipal water supply, the plant produces water that is prone to precipitate blackish particulates, which is not consistent with current aesthetic EPA standards.
While some villagers have grown accustomed to the occasional flow of brown water that plagues the local system, others find the inconsistent quality of their water an aggravating nuisance. The hardness of Village water is also a concern for some, whose plumbing and appliances have been compromised by calcium and lime deposits.
The plant has not been significantly renovated since it was built in 1964, and the estimated cost of upgrading the plant is actually less than the cost of maintaining the status quo, according to a feasibility study completed by Village consultant engineer John Eastman last month. And since interest rates are low, the Village is currently considering upgrading the plant or shutting it down and purchasing water from another municipality, which could cost about the same or only slightly more than the Village currently pays.
The options for water are many, and the opinions from villagers on which one to choose vary depending on their individual experiences with the Village water system.
Issues with the water
The Village water treatment plant on Jacoby Road has maintained a good track record with the Ohio EPA and has always produced fine tasting, safe drinking water for the Village. Complaints have mainly included the level of hardness and the periodic brown water. Hard water causes calcium and lime deposits, which can coat pipes and appliances and cause difficulty with water pressure. Village water is “exceedingly” hard, according to Eastman, at 30 grains per gallon, compared to less than 1 gpg for softened water. The treatment plant does not soften the Village water.
Brown water is a result of the way both the water treatment plant and the distribution system throughout the Village function. According to Eastman, the water from the Village well field contains manganese and iron, neither of which is harmful to drink (in the concentrations found here) but both of which when precipitated out of suspension discolor the water and present an aesthetic nuisance. The water plant removes the iron but not the manganese, which is dissolved in the water when it leaves the plant and precipitates out a blackish sediment to varying degrees thereafter, depending on its level of exposure to oxygen in the water.
Some of the brown water can be explained. For those on the north half of the village, the water flows from the water plant to the Gaunt Park towers, where most of the manganese has time to settle out before the water gets distributed to residents. But most residents south of Allen Street receive their water directly from the plant before the manganese has had time to settle out. The manganese precipitates as the water sits in the pipes, and during low-to-normal flow, the sediment remains in the pipes. But on the occasion of a high demand for water, manganese sediments get stirred up, causing brown water to flow at the tap.
According to Village Water Distribution Superintendent Kelley Fox, high flow is caused by many things, including a local business suddenly using a high volume of water, the fire department exercise using a fire hydrant, or any large building whose occupants are all using water at once, such as a college dorm in the morning. Lightning is also known to remix sediments into the water and possibly cause a brown water episode, according to Village Water Superintendent Joe Bates.
The Village has instituted a mechanism to try to deal with the problem by declaring brown water days twice a year for one week each, when all of the Village’s several hundred water hydrants are opened to flush out the manganese and iron particulates that have settled out of the water. But especially south of town, manganese is constantly precipitating in the pipes, so that brown water in a particular line occurs every time that line experiences high flow. For instance, Kathryn Van der Heiden, who lives on the south end of the village, experiences brown water episodes on a monthly basis with little to no predictability, she said last week.
And the function of the distribution system can only explain so much. Even users north of Allen Street experience frequent and unpredictable bouts of brown water. The brick building on the south corner of Limestone Street and Xenia Avenue owned by David and Esther Battle had random brown water episodes before the couple installed a whole house filter several years ago. And the library next door also has frequent brown water that does not always coincide with the Village hydrant flushing events, according to librarian Connie Collett.
The brown water north of town could possibly be linked to the older pipes near Antioch College, which owned the Village’s first water distribution system, according to Fox. The Village purchased the system in the 1920s and still has not replaced all of the 2- and 4-inch galvanized steel and cast iron lines that can cause bottlenecks during periods of higher than normal demand, which leads to brown water. Older dead end lines can also collect sediment, which gets distributed during times of high flow as well, Fox said.
Also, rusting of galvanized pipes in many older homes can be a source of brown water for that home alone.
Opinions about the system
Villagers’ opinions about and experiences with Village water tend to depend on where in Yellow Springs they live and their ability to do home repairs. The Battles manage their problems at the Limestone Street building through regular maintenance, which David Battle finds a minor nuisance. To manage the brown water, he installed a $50 whole house filter in the basement and changes the filter every few months, or whenever the filter turns dark brown. In addition, he uses an acidic solution to clean rust stains from the sinks, toilets and other fixtures and regularly removes a sludgy black deposit that collects in the toilet tanks to keep them functioning properly.
At home in the south end of town, the Battles manage a second whole house filter and soften both the hot and cold water, in addition to filtering their drinking water. While those systems cost a certain amount of money per month, they experience very little trouble with their water at home, Battle said. He would welcome the convenience of having the Village water treated and softened at the plant, but the trade-off would depend on the costs involved, he said.
“It would be great if all of it was filtered, but I don’t know — I’ve just done it because it has to be done,” he said.
Property owner John Cannon feels that managing the water issues at each home is more sensible and cost effective than treating it at the plant. That’s partly because the quality of the water needed depends on the use. Cannon, who grew up in the Village, is very accustomed to regularly treating the plumbing fixtures in his rental homes with a de-liming compound so they don’t become constricted from the hardness. Only some of his homes have water softeners, which cost a few hundred to install but then $5 a month for the salt thereafter. And for optimal drinking, it is cost effective to filter water in the kitchen at a cost of about $60 a year.
But treating water at the treatment plant for drinking quality would be excessive, he said. The average person uses 1,500 gallons of water per month, only a fraction of which is used for drinking, he said.
“It’s ridiculous to flush toilets with drinking water,” he said, adding the same for doing laundry, watering lawns and washing cars.
But local resident Fritz Leighty might be willing to pay more for Village water for better treatment at the plant, he said last week. He and his wife, Judy, have lived here for 50 years, during which time they have purchased three water softeners.
“Like almost everybody in town, we’ve got a water softener — you can’t live here without one if you want water,” he said.
The Leightys also purchase AquaFalls bottled water for drinking, which costs the two of them about $9 every two weeks.
Local resident Tom Clevenger has been satisfied with the Village water in his house on South High Street, and only recently installed a water softener, as he was installing new plumbing anyway and wanted to protect his new washing machine from lime deposits.
The options by cost
According to Eastman’s study, renovating the treatment plant for a 20-year life span and bringing it up to current EPA standards (treating for manganese but not softening) would bring the Village’s cost of water to about $3.66 per 1,000 gallons. (The current cost to the Village is about $3.73/1,000 gallons, while the Village charges consumers $4.20/1,000 gallons.)
Water from any other municipality would be treated for both manganese and iron. Water from Springfield, if that city paid to bring the water line to the edge of Clark County, could cost $5.72 or lower, if the city agreed to negotiate a lower rate than the one currently published. Springfield’s water is not fluoridated, and it is softened at the treatment plant without the use of sodium.
The Village could also get water from Xenia, which would be unfluoridated and unsoftened, but the cost would be around $7.20/1,000 gallons if that city agreed to pay for constructing a water line as far north as Goes. And getting water from Greene County, which does fluoridate, would cost around $7.54/1,000 gallons.
The Village has one additional option, which is to contract with a private company to design and build a new water treatment plant in town and operate it for a fee. Eastman estimated the cost of this option would be about $5.27 per 1,000 gallons. If maintaining local control of the water system is a concern, the Village could include an option in the contract to repurchase the plant at any time fo a pre-negotiated amount, Eastman said.