What's in the water?

Posted: Tuesday, March 08, 2011

We like to know what is in our food so we can adjust the rest of our intake and exercise accordingly, and we like to know how much money is coming into our bank accounts so we can spend with that balance in mind. And much like an individual, the city of Soldotna is concerned with what's coming in and what's going out, especially when it comes to its water system.

The River Terrace RV Park is located in downtown Soldotna on the bank of the Kenai River, and despite its proximity to one of the many water mains snaking beneath the city streets, it is not hooked up to the city water system. It is, however, connected to the Soldotna sewers, which transport wastewater to be clarified at a treatment plant and poured back into the Kenai.

The RV park's water, which comes from a well, has arsenic content above the maximum contamination level allowed by Alaska's drinking water regulations. And while this particular contamination is but a drop in the proverbial bucket of the wastewater stream, it represents a problem that Soldotna needs to correct.

"His water supply is coming into our wastewater system," said Soldotna City Manager Larry Semmens of park owner Gary Hinkle's set-up, "and we have no control or knowledge of what is in his water that is now coming into our system. But we're responsible for that effluent."

Responsible to the Environmental Protection Agency, that is. And though Soldotna is currently in complete compliance with the EPA when it comes to water regulations, the city would still like to have total knowledge over what is coming into its system so potential problems can be treated on the input side of things instead of the possibly more costly and complicated output side.

"If you know that you've got something that the EPA regulates against that's in your source water," Semmens said hypothetically, "you probably want to treat that at the source side rather than trying to treat it at your plant."

Soldotna's wastewater travels underground to the headworks building and undergoes a variety of treatments too numerous and complex to detail here before draining into the Kenai River and ultimately flowing into the Cook Inlet. As it stands, if the EPA were to discover something wrong with the water being put back into the river, Soldotna would be forced to look at its water supply to identify the cause. If it was not coming from the city, though, pinpointing the perpetrating personal well would be difficult.

Rick Wood, Soldotna's utility manager, said there are several places in Soldotna presenting the same problem as Hinkle's RV park: some houses down East Redoubt Avenue and Funny River Road as well as the subdivision on Lilly Drive off of West Redoubt Avenue decided to hook up to sewer lines but neglected to do the same with water.

To fix this problem and exert greater control over what is coming into its sewer system, Soldotna's utility department is crafting an ordinance that would allow the city to compel residences and businesses to connect to both sewer and water lines.

"We are in the process of re-writing the code where we're not going to let people hook up to just one or the other," Wood said. "If it's available for them, they will have to hook up to both of them" if they are within 300 feet of a main.

The city will still not be able to force residents to connect to their water system as opposed to a personal well unless the well goes bad or needs to be redrilled; if water is available to someone in that situation, then he or she is required to hook up to the city's system. Due to its arsenic issue, for instance, the River Terrace RV Park has been told by the DEC to hook up to city water by the end of this year.

"Ultimately, we want to be able to control the water coming in and the water going out," Semmens said.

Wood said he hopes to present the ordinance to the Soldotna City Council within the month. After it is introduced, a public hearing will be held and the council will vote on whether to pass it into law.

Karen Garcia can be reached at karen.garcia@peninsulaclarion.com.

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