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Mayor Hamilton Provides Information on Water Quality

Jan. 14, 2016

Mayor John Hamilton held a press conference in Council Chambers to provide the public with information regarding City of Bloomington Utilities water treatment practices. Mayor Hamilton emphasized the CBU's commitment to providing excellent water quality and public health, data transparency, and providing safe drinking water to all customers of the CBU.

This is a copy of the fact sheet that was shared with all in attendance at the press conference.

Additional data from the CBU can be found on the City's B Clear open data portal.

The Basics:

The City of Bloomington Utilities ("CBU") is responsible for treatment and distribution of water, collection and treatment of wastewater, and channeling of stormwater in the City of Bloomington. CBU is committed to excellent water quality and public health, data transparency, and providing our customers with all available data related to water quality. Providing safe drinking water to all of our customers is mandatory.

The Monroe Water Treatment Plant provides water to all of Monroe County through CBU and 10 wholesale water customers, as well as Indiana University. Overall, CBU provides water to nearly 23,000 residential customers and over 1,800 commercial customers.

Concerns:

Disinfectants such as chlorine are an essential element of drinking water treatment because of the barrier they provide against waterborne disease-causing microorganisms. Contaminants called Disinfectant By-Products ("DBPs") are created when certain disinfectants interact with organic and inorganic materials during the treatment process. Over the last several years DBP levels have been rising, occasionally exceeding recommended levels temporarily ("Maximum Contaminant Levels" or "MCLs"), but not exceeding allowable averages. Recently, one of our wholesale customers exceeded the allowable DBP average level and was cited by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management ("IDEM").

If a system hits a 75% threshold for DBPs, it is considered an "Operational Exceedance Level." At that level or above, the US Environmental Protection Agency ("EPA") and IDEM require a plan, called an Operational Exceedance Report, to reduce future DBP levels. CBU hit this threshold twice in the past 18 months, and will submit a report within three weeks. Industry best practices set by the American Water Works Association suggest systems stay below 50% of the MCL for DBPs.

According to the EPA, long-term exposure (usually defined as lifetime or 50 - 70 years) to DBPs over the MCL has been linked in some studies to an increased risk of cancer. A few recent studies have suggested that short term exposure (defined as anywhere from 14 days to a few years) to DBPs over the MCL could be an issue for vulnerable populations such as the elderly, those with immune-compromised systems, pregnant women or infants. CBU is not in violation of EPA or IDEM standards at this time. However, DBP contaminant levels are trending upward over the last several years, one wholesale customer has exceeded the standard, and the City is committed immediately and aggressively to addressing this issue, to lower these levels over the next three to six months.

How the issue has been addressed so far:

The Utilities Services Board ("USB") (the citizen board responsible for the oversight of management of the utilities under local and state law) has contracted with Black and Veatch engineering firm to perform an optimization study at the water plant. Plant operators are now undergoing new training regimens, sampling more frequently and optimizing chemical use.

Additional things CBU will do to address the issue and inform the public:

Budget/Rate Increase:

Rates for the drinking water system were last raised in 2011. The process to raise water rates was started in 2012 and again in 2015, without moving forward. In order adequately and responsibly to fund the CBU, as well as expand the water quality program and a routine distribution system flushing program, additional resources will likely be required.

The process to analyze the rate structure is underway again. The currently proposed timetable has the CBU submitting a rate increase request to the Indiana Utilities Regulatory Commission ("IURC") in September, following review and approval by the USB and the City Council. The public will have opportunities to provide input at each of those steps. The request will be reviewed by the IURC and either approved or denied. In addition, the office of the Utilities Consumer Counsel will scrutinize the request, comment and make recommendations during the IURC review process.