Mayor’s Update #21: I Repeat: Blanco’s Water is Safe to Drink
By Mayor Bruce Peele
I was sitting in my office at City Hall last week when I received a call from a very irate citizen. She lambasted me, the City Utility Department, the Blanco Independent School District, and everyone else she could think of. She was upset. I use that term mildly but I assure you, there was nothing mild about this lady’s complaint. She said that her children were being forced to drink contaminated water from the City of Blanco’s water system.
Well, I can see her point. I would be upset too, if it were true. But it isn’t. Our water is perfectly safe to drink.
Undoubtedly she read the recent Public Notice that the City published in the newspaper stating that we had been informed by the TCEQ (Texas Commission on Environmental Quality) that we had exceeded the maximum allowable amount of TTHMs (Total Trihalomethanes) in our water. If you’ve lived in Blanco for any amount of time, you know this has been a recurring problem, on and off, for years. The City takes it seriously and is taking steps, which I will detail here, to correct it. However, the water is safe to drink. If it wasn’t, TCEQ would shut us down immediately.
Last April, I wrote Mayor’s Update #12 about Blanco’s Drinking Water. In it I explained that TTHMs are formed as a result of a chemical reaction between chlorine, that is added to treat the water, and the organic matter that exists in the water being treated. When the City finds levels of organic material in the water that exceed certain parameters, the City increases the amount of the chlorine it uses to treat the water in order to keep the water safe to drink. The increase in organic material and the chlorine to treat it results in more TTHMs. If the resulting TTHMs exceed TCEQ guidelines, a Public Notice is generated.
So why was there more organic material in the water that needed more chlorine? Because of flood damage to the City’s water plant in May 2015, the City has had purchase treated water from the Canyon Lake Water Supply Company (CLWSC). CLWSC, which treats the water it sells to Blanco, experienced problems with its blower system that was designed to bring organic material levels down to such a level that the increased use of chlorine would not be necessary. However, due to the problems with CLWSC’s blower system, the amount of organic material in the Canyon Lake water we were buying increased to such a level that it was necessary to increase the level of chlorine used to treat the water. This increase in organic material and chlorine resulted in the increased level of TTHMs and, hence, the violation notice.
CLWSC repaired its blower system . We were pretty sure that any water we purchased from them should not need the level of chlorine that triggered the TCEQ violation notice. Obviously, there was more at play. Thanks to the fine work of Ronnie Rodriguez, our City Utility Director, we determined that the problem could be in the City of Blanco’s Church Tank, the big blue storage tank on Hwy 281 south of town just beyond the Rocking J turnoff. The City is now installing a special mixing system in the Church Tank that will keep the water stored there from going stagnate. This should reduce the amount of organic matter in the water and, in turn, reduce the need to use chlorine. Reduced levels of chlorine will keep the TTHM levels down beneath the TCEQ recommended maximum levels.
We have also had this problem when we draw water from the Blanco River. In my April 2016 Mayor’s Update, I stated that we needed to replace or refurbish the City’s water treatment plant. Since then, the City Council has authorized a multi-million dollar refurbishment of the plant. When we begin this project this Spring, the water plant will be off-line for about a year and we will have to again draw on Canyon Lake water. The improvements we are making to the Church Tank should alleviate the TTHM problem.
The TCEQ notice always states “…if you have health concerns, you may want to talk to your doctor to get more information about how this may affect you.” This makes a lot of sense. If you are truly concerned about TTHMs in Blanco’s drinking water, perhaps you should consult with your physician. There are commercially available whole house or point of use filtration systems that reportedly are very effective in removing TTHMs from the water. For citizens who are overly concerned about TTHMs, this is always an option.
By the way, cities that draw their drinking water from surface water, as we do, are much more susceptible to this problem than are cities that have water wells. Blanco drilled some test wells several years ago but could not get sufficient flow to meet the City’s needs. That’s when we built the pipeline to Canyon Lake.
As I have stated before, there is nothing more important than the health and safety of our citizens. Blanco’s water is safe to drink. Even the pesky TTHM problem should be eliminated once our new water treatment plant is operational.