Monday, May 16, 2005

West Palm To Study New Ways To Treat Water

Water Contaminations & pollutions is evermore critical now then ever.

It is important constantly to seek new ways & R & D on the subject matter, one cannot wait until the problem's surface then start to find a solutions to it. That would be too late.. lost a life's & money would happen.

West Palm to study new ways to treat water

By Thomas R. Collins

Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Monday, May 16, 2005

WEST PALM BEACH — City residents turned on their faucets one Monday morning last month only to be slapped in the nose by foul-smelling water that tasted like dirt.

City utility officials say they're about to take a hard look at their water system to keep the wincing to a minimum when people pick up their glasses.
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They'll have a lot to review.

Among the 40 largest cities in Florida in terms of population, West Palm Beach is one of only three that rely primarily on surface water — a source that most in the water industry agree is harder to treat and is subject to algae blooms, like the one that had bottled-water sales skyrocketing recently.

When the weather turns dry, the city turns to Lake Okeechobee, which is so polluted and unfit for providing drinking water that it is frequently described as "chocolate milk" full of phosphates and nitrogens that allow algae to flourish and release foul-tasting compounds. And it's getting worse all the time, making future algae blooms more likely.

Despite that, the city has not turned to more sophisticated ways of treating water that could remove the offensive stuff. At least 17 of the cities in the top 40 have done so, including the other two that rely on surface water: Tampa and Melbourne.

The city's study comes in the middle of a population explosion in which 15,000 more water drinkers have moved into West Palm Beach over the last four years.

Water experts say the promise of more frequent algae blooms is a problem West Palm Beach shouldn't ignore.

"Sometimes you encounter a situation beyond what you expected to have," said Michael Hambor, an operations supervisor with the Palm Beach County Health Department who oversees drinking-water quality. "Now they're going to have to go back and decide what do we do when these things happen."

"I think they have a lot of opportunities with their water treatment facility," said Randy Smith, spokesman for the South Florida Water Management District.

City utility officials promise to respond.

"If they have some alternative methods that would really help our customers, we will definitely budget them and build them," Public Utilities Director Ken Rearden said. "I don't want to deal with this every year."

Ever since railroad tycoon Henry Flagler started drawing rainwater from a low-lying area for his Royal Poinciana Hotel in 1894, the city has relied on surface water.

Today, 19 square miles of wetlands west of Florida's Turnpike store rainwater for drinking. The quality of that water is superior to other surface sources, such as the Hillsborough River, which Tampa uses.

The city is trying to decrease its reliance on Lake Okeechobee during dry periods. It has tested a program in which water is stored in underground wells, though an expansion of that system has stalled because of electricity problems.

The city also is planning to open a plant that treats waste water and returns it to the drinking water supply, but that has been delayed because of problems with the contractor, utility officials said.

"Our mission is to stop reliance on Lake Okeechobee because of the water quality," Rearden said.

The city's plant has won awards and West Palm Beach once won an award for best-tasting water in the region, though that was so many years ago few can remember when it was.

Still, a recent algae bloom, prompted by a hurricane-churned Lake Okeechobee, threw the city for a loop. Utility officials, who use powdered carbon to treat the compounds, simply added more. But they were adding it to the wrong place at first, and had to fix it. They eventually received emergency permission to tap into an underground well of cleaner water to dilute the city's water. Since then, they've upped the amount of chlorine in the water for better disinfection.

Palm Beach County objected to the city's use of the well, worrying it might hurt the quality of the county's water sources nearby.

The city has painted itself into a corner on the algae problem, said Bevin Beaudet, the county's utilities director and past president of the American Water Works Association.

"They're not really looking for a longer-term solution," he said. "It would be presumptuous to say I know how to solve their problems. But if they worked on it they could do that."

More and more cities are turning to methods of treating water that are more sophisticated than West Palm Beach's chemical-treatment method. One is the use of synthetic membranes through which water passes.

Others use ozone, which mixes with the water and changes the molecular makeup of the impure material to render it odorless and tasteless.

The county began using membrane and ozone treatment in the 1990s, in part to eliminate taste and odor problems caused by sulfur, a common problem with underground water.

"The studies showed that the ozone greatly improved the taste and odor of the water and also helped us meet the future regulations," Beaudet said. Moving to ozone also would eliminate the need for chlorine and the waste product associated with it, he noted. Boca Raton and Boynton Beach have turned to membranes.

Rearden said the city will consider all methods, but said going to ozone would be expensive.

"Can you think about what the water rates would be for that?" he said.

Beaudet said the county's rates rose 10 percent or 15 percent over five years when the upgrades were made.

The Orlando Utilities Commission raised rates 10 percent for four straight years in the late 1990s to pay for its switch to ozone.

Others in the industry said newer isn't necessarily better.


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