Keyes to spend $8M to rid well water of arsenic

kcarlson@modbee.comFebruary 17, 2014 

— Community leaders have known for eight years that treatment was needed to reduce trace levels of arsenic in the drinking water here.

This year, the Keyes Community Services District could start construction on an arsenic treatment plant. The facility will be much like the treatment plant that filters arsenic from the drinking water in Lathrop in San Joaquin County, General Manager Ernie Garza said.

The design plans for the Keyes facility are due at the state Department of Public Health by June 30. The results of a Proposition 218 vote in 2012 gave the Keyes utility district permission to raise water rates to help pay for the $8 million project.

“I am hoping to start building by the end of the year,” Garza said. “We will have to wait for construction bids. Within a year, it should be completed.”

Keyes, an unincorporated town with 5,600 residents, gets drinking water from four district-owned wells. Three of those wells exceed California’s drinking water standard of 10 parts per billion for arsenic, which occurs naturally in the ground. The test results, showing levels of 15 or 16 ppb, were not considered a problem worth addressing until the federal government lowered the maximum contaminant level to 10 ppb in 2006.

The state’s revised standard went into effect in November 2008.

The stricter requirements made arsenic a water quality issue for many Valley communities, including Modesto, Ceres, Hughson and Ripon. Modesto can use surface water to keep arsenic and other contaminants at acceptable levels. Keyes has only wells, making treatment the solution.

The possible health effects of drinking water that’s heavily laden with arsenic are skin discoloration, stomach pain, nausea, diarrhea and numbness in the hands and feet. Long-term consumption of water containing trace levels is believed to raise the risk of cancer of the lungs, kidney, bladder and nasal passages.

The state approved a $3 million grant and $5 million no-interest loan for designing and building the Keyes treatment system. The services district has designated a 1-acre site for the treatment facility on the west side of Highway 99, across Jessup Road from the A.L. Gilbert Co. animal feed warehouse.

Garza said the plant will use a coagulant to filter the arsenic from the water, and then send the treated water to a 600,000-gallon storage tank. Crews will bore under the freeway so the clean water is piped to homes and businesses on the east side of Highway 99.

About 1,700 customers in Keyes are facing annual increases in basic water rates, which are scheduled to reach $34.97 per month in July 2015. On top of that, the district will charge a metered rate of $1.73 for 750 gallons of water use.

One Keyes resident said the district has not done enough to inform residents about the arsenic. “I was not aware of it until six months ago,” said Harold Koenig, who lives in Modesto Western Mobile Estates and now filters his water. “I’m concerned about the young people who drink the water out of the faucet.”

The district also is talking with state officials about a proposal to serve three mobile home parks and Teen Challenge at Faith Home Ranch within a mile of Keyes. Under a possible agreement, those properties would destroy their wells that have contamination and connect to the Keyes system. Besides Teen Challenge, potential partners are the Countryside Mobile Home Estates, Mobile Plaza Estates and Green Run Mobile Estates.

The community services district will need a state grant for water mains tying them to the system. Garza said the out-of-district customers would be expected to pay the same rates charged in Keyes. Mobile home customers will be charged $27.97 a month for water starting in July 2015, plus the metered rate.

Bee staff writer Ken Carlson can be reached at kcarlson@modbee.com or (209) 578-2321.

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