PHOENIX, NY – Concern over smelly, brown drinking water flowing from the taps of village homes and businesses has the community at odds but Phoenix leaders have finally charted a clear direction to address contamination at its wells, and perhaps finally cure the water’s dirty cast.
During its Oct. 21 meeting, Village Trustees decided to move forward with a plan to contract with the Metropolitan Water Board – the administrative arm of the Onondaga County Water District – for a clean drinking water supply for village of Phoenix residents and businesses.
In the deal, the community will give up its Sand Ridge Aquifer drinking water and buy treated Lake Ontario water from the neighboring government utility.
Physical Engineer Doug Miller, of Miller Engineers, said he reviewed the status of the drinking water project, and met with the Oswego County Health Department on behalf of the village of Phoenix.
“We agreed we would review existing data,” Miller said, “go back to the wells, and take a very hard, sophisticated look. … What we saw is, there was an indication of microscopic particulate analysis (MPA) in the wells.”
According to the village’s 2013 Annual Water Quality Report, the village water system serves 2,138 people via 913 service connections.
The decision to tap in to the OCWD came for the current administration after stop-gap measures, studies and reams of expert advice and test spanning four years which were prompted by several consecutive tests which revealed particulate matter – algae and other surface water organisms – in the community’s public drinking water supply.
In June, the village sent a letter to all residents advising of the ongoing groundwater contamination which came to light three years prior.
“On April 20, 2011, the Oswego County Department of Health determined that the Village of Phoenix Foster Wells #1 and #3, representing the primary and backup source of village, town district and outside user’s drinking water, were identified as groundwater sources under the influence of surface water,” the letter stated. “In other words, surface water containing certain organisms had reached the aquifer supplying our drinking water.”
The letter went on to describe test results on samples taken April 5, 2011, and can be viewed on the village website here: http://villageofphoenix-ny.gov/images/Important%20Information%20About%20Your%20Drinking%20Water%20-%20June%2020141.pdf
“Although the situation did not require Phoenix village water customers to take any immediate action, you had and have a right to know what happened,” village leaders said in the unsigned letter attributed to all village officials.
It was at that point in 2011 the Oswego County Health Department required the village to bring the municipal drinking water supply into compliance with the Surface Water Treatment Rule.
“The rule establishes maximum residual disinfectant level goals and maximum residual disinfectant levels for three chemical disinfectants: chlorine, chloramine and chlorine dioxide. It also established MCLG’s and MCL’s for total trihalomethanes, haloacetic acids, chlorite and bromate.
”(The current revision, in 2008) amended the existing Surface Water Treatment Rule (1989) to strengthen microbial protection, including provisions specifically to address Cryptosporidium, and to address risk trade-offs with disinfection byproducts.
“The final rule included treatment requirements for waterborne pathogens (Cryptosporidium). In addition, systems were required to continue to meet existing requirements for Giardia lamblia and viruses. The rule, with tightened turbidity performance criteria and individual filter monitoring requirements, was designed to optimize treatment reliability and to enhance physical removal efficiencies to minimize the Cryptosporidium levels in finished water. In addition, continuous turbidity monitoring was now required for individual filters,” according to the New York State Department of Health.
In effect, the danger lies with the potential for surface water to carry contaminants, bacteria and waterborne diseases into the ground water that would then be pumped by the village into the pipes supplying drinking water into homes and businesses.
The Health Department gave the village until November 2012 to comply with one of the suggested options.
The first measure by the village, according to its letter to residents, was to chlorinate the municipal water supply to the maximum safe levels.
The village re-tested in 2011 and 2012 and showed no further contamination but its findings were in conflict with the Oswego County Health Department tests, which showed the wells were still under the influence of surface water sources.
In March 2013, Foster Well #1 again tested positive for surface water organisms, and by June 2013 according to the Health Department, both wells were again testing positive for surface contaminants.
“Additional testing was conducted by the village on April 19, 2013, June 21, 2013 and June 5, 2014. The results of those tests indicated that surface water organisms were not detected in either of the Foster Wells,” the June 2014 village letter stated.
Despite the village’s contention that it was working to resolve the problem, having already been cited once, it remained in violation of the Surface Water Treatment Rule.
Meanwhile, after allowing the village to first determine if there was another source of intrusion, yet still coming up contaminated, in June 2013 the Oswego County Health Department and New York State Department of Heath both concluded “that both Foster Wells were groundwater sources under direct influence of surface water,” according to the village letter.
The health departments then compelled leaders to implement one of three solutions: install new wells; construct a filtration plant; or connect to another approved public water source.
Because a ground water problem had already been identified by the health department in April 2011, and a plan of correction recommended, the village was no longer required to send out quarterly updates with respect to the ongoing water quality concerns.
“You shall receive a notice similar to this every three months hereafter until compliance is achieved,” village officials said in their June 2014 letter as they continued to work through the engineers’ reports to find the best possible solution.
So, with the June notice attachment listing bacteria, cryptosporidium, and giardia, and disease symptoms like diarrhea, cramps, nausea, and possibly jaundice, headaches and fatigue, and already experiencing odd smelling, occasionally discolored water flowing from their taps, residents began to ask their village officials directly: why did it take three years to alert them there might be a problem with the water, and what is being done to fix it?
Tomorrow, Part II: A Community On Alert