Livingston weighs fixes for water

tmiller@mercedsunstar.comJuly 28, 2013 

— City Council, interested residents and business owners here are looking at short-, mid- and long-term ways to improve water quality and capacity.

Government officials distributed a feasibility study this week regarding the city's options for its groundwater.

"Our council and the community want a sustainable and flexible water supply," City Manager Jose Ramirez said, adding water quality declines as wells age.

Ramirez declined to go into detail until City Council, staff and the committee of "stakeholders," a group of residents and business owners, read the report and meet to discuss it.

The plan lays out the estimated costs to upgrade Livingston's existing wells, as opposed to building a water treatment plant, purchasing surface water or some hybrid of the options.

Residents of Livingston rely on 10 wells for potable water, and Livingston has dealt with contaminant issues for several years.

Regulatory agencies have periodically lowered the threshold of acceptable contaminants in wells — all of Livingston's wells have some level of natural or manmade contaminants.

"We know that the (Environmental Protection Agency) and other regulatory agencies will only continue to lower the maximum contaminant level threshold," Ramirez said, adding the study will aid the pursuit of a solution.

Half of the city's wells need treatment for contaminants like manganese, arsenic and nitrate. The study states that all 10 have the potential to eventually need treatment for 1,2,3-trichloropropane, while some could need treatment for arsenic and manganese.

Often used in the production of pesticides, TCP is a man-made chemical that can cause cancer, kidney failure and tumors, according to the EPA.

Naturally occurring arsenic can lead to cancer, skin discoloration, nausea, vomiting, partial paralysis and blindness.

Manganese is essential for normal human function, but can result in effects to the central nervous system in prolonged excess exposure.

Ramirez said he also hopes to stabilize water rates.

A controversial, multi-year water rate hike passed in 2009, before Ramirez was city manager, was ruled unconstitutional by a Merced County Superior Court judge.

The increase preceded the ousting of former Mayor Daniel Varela Sr. and former Councilwoman Martha Nateras from their positions by more than 77 percent of the vote during a recall in 2010.

According to the feasibility study, construction costs for individual well treatment or one of several water treatment plant plans could be from $18 million to $27 million, with annual costs of $404,000 to $569,000.

Councilman Gurpal Samra said the different long-term plans have their own pros and cons. He said he hasn't made up his mind on which plan is best.

Treatment to individual wells, Samra said, is cheaper up front with greater costs to maintain them. Meanwhile, he said, a water treatment plant would be most expensive to build, but cost less to run.

"I just need to know (which will give) the most return on our investment for our people," Samra said.

On the short-term side of water upgrades, the city budget, which has not yet been approved, has earmarked more than $5 million for engineering, improved water meters and upgrades to some of the most problematic wells.

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