Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee I am Arvil Morgan, manager of Wagoner County Rural Water District No. 5 at Coweta, Oklahoma. I appreciate the opportunity to appear before the Committee today to discuss the impact of increasingly stringent federal Safe Drinking Water Act requirements on our water district.
Our water district serves 2,550 rural households in southwestern portions of Wagoner County, through 230 miles of distribution line. We operate a 1.5 million gallon per day water treatment plant that was constructed in 1991. Water supply for the district comes from the Verdigris River. We also have emergency backup connections with the City of Broken Arrow, Wagoner County Rural Water District No. 4 and the Town of Coweta.
We currently have an escalating water rate. Our customers pay an average of $3.20 for each 1000 gallons used and an average monthly water bill of $35.00.
The Environmental Protection Agency’s new Disinfection/Disinfection By-Products Rule went into effect on January 1, 2004. This rule reduced the allowable level for Trihalomethanes (THM’s) from 100 parts per billion to 80 parts per billion and set a new level of 60 parts per billion for Haloacetic Acids. To comply with the new regulations, it will be necessary for Wagoner No 5 to upgrade its water treatment process. Improvements that will be required include installation of a pre-sedimentation basin and a clarifier that will treat up to 2 million gallons of water per day. Our engineer estimates that it will cost approximately $1.5 million to make the necessary improvements.
Our district does not qualify for grants, therefore our project will be completed entirely with loan funds. We expect to apply for financing with USDA Rural Development. Repayment of a $1.5 million Rural Development loan at five percent interest over 40 years will cost approximately $87,000.00 per year. The district will not be able to absorb these costs and it will be necessary to increase rates to our customers by approximately 10 percent, which would equate to about $36.00 per user per year. Additionally, our operating costs have increased $1,500.00 per month. These costs include chemicals and additional labor for water treatment.
In January1, 2003 systems were required to meet the new Stage 1 Filter Backwash Recycle Rule. Next year we will be required to comply with new turbidity requirements. The allowable level for turbidity will be lowered from .5 NTU’s to .3 NTU’s and continuous monitoring will be required on each filter. The Stage 2 Disinfection – Disinfection Byproducts Rule will also be implemented next year. This rule will require additional monitoring and reporting on THM’s and Haloacetic Acids, increasing system operational and monitoring costs.
There are approximately 250 water systems in Oklahoma that operate water treatment plants. Most of these systems serve less that 3,300 people. For many of these small and very small systems the cost of compliance is an extreme hardship. We also have a shortage of qualified operators in the state. According to the Department of Environmental Quality, we have a 20 percent turnover in operators each year. There are 1,500 new operators annually that need training and assistance to assure proper system operation, maintenance and compliance.
Each new EPA rule has a cost. Compounding of these costs make it more and more difficult for systems to maintain reasonable and affordable water rates. Wagoner County Rural Water District No. 5 is committed to providing safe, potable water to our members. We drink the water that we produce and the quality of our product is very important to us. We want to do what is necessary and reasonable to assure that our water is safe. However, we believe that regulations should be based on sound science and the ratio of cost to benefits should be an important consideration in setting drinking water standards. What we need are practical, reasonable and affordable regulations.
Thank you again for the opportunity to address the Committee. I would be happy to answer any questions.