New water, wastewater rules from DNR still pending
Spokespersons seeing standing regulations continuing
For municipal public works operators, good news came from the representatives of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (DNR) at the annual water and wastewater conference for Missouri’s Southwest Section this week that no new regulations have come down through the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that will seriously impact water and wastewater operations in general.
However, longtime infrastructure specialist Phil Walsack warned that maintenance of unseen lines has to be more than an occasional repair-and-forget operation, a concept that has not sunk in with many operators and municipal leaders.
Fred Schlegel, public drinking water specialist with DNR, said the biggest change he anticipates will come through a revision in the lead and copper rule, triggered by the 2015 fiasco in Flint, Mich. After three years of work, EPA may release its rule changes later this year.
Schlegel said the main problem in Flint, an influx of corrosive river water that dissolved the pipes, sending lead in water to customers, would not likely occur in southwest Missouri, where water is not naturally corrosive. New resources are now available to help cities protect against such issues. Drinking Water Watch in Missouri is an online resource through DNR that lists a deep history of water samples taken in municipalities, including bacteria and metal levels from every test sample.
He suggested water operators look at the data for the level of corrosiveness — a negative number if corrosive — and plug numbers into the Langelier Saturation Index online. The index shows how additives, such as chlorine, caustic soda orthophosphates, can reduce and change the causticity of a town’s water supply.
Schelegel cautioned opinions differ about the reliability of even the Langelier Index. Specialist Don Anderson released a report in 2016 at Tan-Tar-A suggesting the scale may not provide a full picture, urging caution before investing heavily in chemical compounds.
“If you’re in compliance, don’t make treatment changes,” he said. “In the future, expect a revision of the lead and copper rule. It will most likely involve more sampling. Nothing has been published yet. Don’t worry about it until you hear otherwise.”
E.C. West, water specialist who focuses on wastewater issues, said he was not aware of pending changes that would affect standards for municipal operations.
West reviewed last year’s presentation on recycling sand systems that offered an innovative approach for very small systems to reduce ammonia levels. DNR leaders responded positively to the offer West and others made to try to find low cost alternatives that would reduce ammonia. Their system of effluent circulating through half-inch PVC pipes, dropped into a holding tank and capped to hold in the media where the ammonia eating bacteria could take root, worked.
West described newer versions of their contraption and how they were being used in small subdivisions and RV parks. Their study continues as they look more thoroughly at similar systems around the state to determine why some work better than others.
West expected towns operating community lagoons would be expected to maintain the ammonia levels they presently have. He understood regulations on phosphorus levels would also stay steady.
According to Randall Willoughby, unit chief with DNR’s Springfield office, the Clean Water Commission in Jefferson City had adopted a new water quality standard, but it was not yet clear what widespread impact would come from that. He thought the ammonia standard would hold where it has been.
Municipal wastewater permits, Willoughby noted, look at each community’s plant individually, determining how well it operates, and compares that with the water standard for where the treated effluent drains. A stricter ammonia standard has been derived for the survivability of mussels. Permit managers look at the technology available, last upgrades at the plant and compare that to a matrix measuring how long current levels can continue before problems develop. Permits offer a time frame for making improvements to maintain the ecosystem.
The other major issue facing all municipalities, driven by DNR, is limiting inflow and infiltration into the sanitary sewer system. The more unwanted fluids, like rain, that enter a wastewater plant, the greater the cost to the city for treating it, and the greater the potential for an overflow or even a system failure.
Phil Walsack, now a business development manager for the engineering firm of Burns McDonnell and a decades-long infrastructure specialist, produced a report from the American Society of Civil Engineers, made every four years, that rated drinking water quality in Missouri at a “C” and wastewater treatment quality at “C-minus.” He noted many European countries were “hustling” to make quality improvements, while “We’re not.”
He noted water looks different in various parts of Missouri. North Missouri water is brown, he said, because of the soil. Lake of the Ozarks has green water because of phosphorous and nitrate levels, and Table Rock Lake is blue. Treatment needs to keep regional water in its natural state and color.
Walsack stressed that sewer operators in general and city leaders in particular need to change their way of approaching cracked and leaking sewer mains and leaking manholes.
“This is not a project,” Walsack said. “This is a program. Do this every day. Do it forever. Put money into it every year. It’s not one-and-done.”
Walsack told operators to “quantify, identify, rehabilitate and verify” problems and fixes. Locating problems served no purpose if repairs were never made. If a town could not afford to smoke test its system for leaks, he urged measuring manholes for height, width and depth, using a simple evaluation checklist he developed, and recording permanent problems. Even without a big repair budget, operators can pop manhole lids every day, looking for problems. Towns can afford some annual improvements, and thus build toward better systems.
Too often, he said, smoke testers leave a scene too soon, without waiting for smoke to surface and then not adequately diagnosing why smoke surfaces at a significant distance from known storm or sanitary sewer lines.
Walsack urged operators to use all available tools, including drones. He showed a video of smoke testing in downtown Fulton using a drone, which produced aerial video of smoke coming from third story rooftops that someone on foot would have not seen. Walsack recounted how a restauranteur angrily approached the smoke testers because his kitchen had filled with smoke, until the mayor explained the smoke showed sewer gasses like methane were also backing up into the kitchen and needed to be plugged.
Walsack added that meters now exist that can measure reduced inflow and infiltration, showing city leaders how infrastructure maintenance saves cities money and makes their treatment plants run better and last longer.