County’s Water Is In Compliance Following Months Of Testing In Buckingham

Published 12:07 pm Monday, June 8, 2015

BUCKINGHAM — After months of testing and flushing, sending letters to water customers and failing to meet a drinking water standard because of increased levels of trihalomethanes (THM), the Buckingham County water system is now back in compliance with state water regulations.

The news came in a memo from Buckingham County’s Utilities Director Mike Markley to County Administrator Rebecca S. Carter.

“As a result of additional flushing, and adding an additional chemical during the summer months, I am happy to report to you and the board [of supervisors] that our last three quarters of THM’s have come back under the required limits,” the memo states.

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“Because of these results, we are now back in compliance with the state regulations regarding THM’s. We will continue with our current process to stay in compliance with these regulations,” the memo states.

THM are disinfection byproducts, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). “Trihalomethanes…are a group of four chemicals that are formed along with other disinfection byproducts when chlorine or other disinfectants used to control microbial contaminants in drinking water react with naturally occurring organic and inorganic matter in water,” the EPA’s website states.

Markley cited that the additional chemical used is powdered activated carbon, or PAC, which attacks organic matter in the water, he said.

In late 2014, The Herald reported that tighter regulations from the EPA and the County’s raising of the pool level of the Troublesome Creek Reservoir by 14 inches resulted in increased levels of THM.

In examining levels of THM, water operators test the water at certain points of the line on a quarterly basis and use the four-quarter average of the readings to determine the level of THM. When sampling, the higher of the two samples taken is used, according to Markley.

“The water folks’ reassurances about their methods were adequate during the period of increased levels,” said Buckingham Court House resident Joseph Anthony, who consumes County water. “And I am, of course, happy now that the levels are back down. Clean air and clean water are too often taken for granted.”

Prefacing that she wasn’t an expert on the County’s water supply, Anthony’s wife, Cris Arbo, who also consumes the water, said, “I do have confidence in our County to do the right thing for its citizens in keeping our environment healthy.”

The EPA says that the maximum contaminant level (MCL) of THM that can be in community water systems such as Buckingham’s is 0.080 mg/L. According to Markley, the most updated, averaged four-quarter reading of THM in the County system was 0.064 mg/L. In November, the County reported a reading of 0.097 mg/L.

“It is isolated on that dead end,” he said of the testing location north of the Dillwyn Town limits along U.S. Route 15. “All the samples we’ve taken since the meeting…have been in compliance,” said Markley, referring to the November board of supervisors meeting.

“…We had two or three [readings] that were high prior to that…That’s why it took three quarters for those high readings to drop out, even though all the samples we were taking were well under the limits. We had to wait long enough for that four-quarter average to become under [0.080 mg/L].”

“Hopefully we’ll stay there now. We sort of identified a solution, and it seems to be working…I think we’ve got it under control,” Markley said.

Regarding the potential health risks of the increased THM levels, Bryce M. Simmons, a district engineer with the Virginia Department of Health’s Office of Drinking Water Danville Field Office, said in November, “This goes back to that long-term MCL. So, drinking two liters of water over 70 years may show an increase of bladder cancer and colon cancer are the two main problems that they have done studies on. It has shown an increase, potentially.”

“…We have good-quality water, but due to the changes in the standards, [from the] EPA, there are many water systems that just can’t meet the [new standards],” noted Carter two days after Simmons briefed supervisors on the matter.

The new EPA regulation, said Markley, changed the way the County samples its water from the system.

“We’re starting to have to take dual samples, and they’re actually independent of each other,” he said, noting that previously operators could average the two samples together. “If you had a high one and a low one, you would still be okay. Now, they’re independent of each other, so…if one of them is high, you’re in violation.”

Markley said that when the new water plant was constructed, the pool level of the reservoir was raised by 14 inches. “And as a result of raising that, you back water up into areas that normally wouldn’t have water, and…one of your main causes of your organics is leaf litter and debris…Right now, we’ve got more organics coming from the reservoir than what we had in the past because of raising the…level,” he told The Herald in November.

Buckingham’s water system has approximately 400 connections and serves two correctional centers north of Dillwyn.