RWSA Defends Switch from Chlorine to Chloramines

The Rivanna Water & Sewer Authority gave a presentation on the safety of treating water with chloramines to City Council on Monday night, Courtney Beale reports for Charlottesville Tomorrow. The RWSA recently decided to make the switch in order to comply with federal pollution requirements. Every water purification method has benefits and drawbacks, and people are inherently nervous about what goes into their drinking water. The RWSA selected chloramines over other options primarily because it’s the cheapest option. There are some legitimate concerns about chloramines, and that’s got folks worried, hence the RWSA’s presentation. Whether that presentation changes the anybody’s mind remains to be seen; I’m dubious.

15 thoughts on “RWSA Defends Switch from Chlorine to Chloramines”

  1. So, $200 million for the most expensive option to increase our water supply ( beyond what is needed ), a new dam and uphill electrified pipeline, but they can’t spend money on the best water to drink.

    Does this make sense ?

    Water ratepayers should be outraged.

  2. One issue that doesn’t seem to have gotten much press is that the Ammonia part of the Chloramines eventually breaks down into nitrate/nitrite. I still haven’t seen any numbers about how many pounds of nitrogen this would add to the water that eventually flows into our rivers, but the EPA does indicate in its own materials that increased nitrogen is a result of Chloramines. So why is nitrogen an issue? nitrogen causes algae blooms and harms rivers and the Bay. Indeed we pay farmers to keep nitrogen out of waterways and now we will pay RSWA to add it back in. Somehow this just doesn’t make sense to me and I haven’t heard any response to that issue.

  3. Lonnie, I guess this is something the current chlorination does not cause? These water projects are starting to look like defense contracts. Overpay for connected contractors, capital-intensive stuff, etc. Then lowball the stuff that matters to make up for it.

  4. Lonnie, I saw you quoted in CT about the nitrogen concerns, and was I hoping that you’d write some about it here—thanks for doing so. Surely there’s some data out there about the rate at which ammonia is released from chloramines and, in turn, the rate at which ammonia breaks down into nitrate/nitrite, although I admit that a couple minutes of searching hasn’t revealed that information. It might be that the amount is so small as to be trivia, though it might also be that the opposite is true, and it’s a significant problem that has thus far been overlooked.

  5. On the nitrate/nitrite issue, I’d expect the vast amount of RWSA water is returned to RWSA in the form of wastewater. And wastewater is, of course, chock full of nitrogen (and it’s not from chloramines). So given that chloramines are limited to something like 4 parts per million (4mg/L), I’d expect this to be a trivial issue (and maybe a good trivia topic too, Waldo).

    On top of this, RWSA has recently installed tertiary wastewater treatment that includes denitrification, which will convert significantly more reactive nitrogen to inert nitrogen (N2).

  6. So we’re safe except when there’s water main break in Loudon County and it kills all this fish?! That is a little disturbing. I understand it’s a bit of a flimflam argument. Your goldfish might prefer something other than tap water as well. Yet…

  7. “I’d expect the vast amount of RWSA water is returned to RWSA in the form of wastewater.”

    Yes, yes….. this is a serious topic here but I just could help but split a side at how Andrew said that.

    That being as it is, it’s probably well the RWSA doesn’t operate under a “no deposit – no return” policy.

  8. Forgive me, meant just couldn’t help….. am in such stitches that I can’t see through the tears for laughing.

  9. We should be maintaining a sustainable water supply that does not require pumping most water uphill. Things may really go to heck in the next decade or two or three. Then it won’t be an issue of super-clean water, but some kind of secondary home systems for potable water, with bulk RWSA water for cleaning etc. Just look at the truly clueless response to the last drought, to get an idea of how poorly we are likely to respond to a long term crisis. And this is an educated town! Our drought response was:

    1. City tells restaurants to reduce water use. Restaurants close bathrooms. People go home to use RWSA water in their own bathrooms.

    2. Restaurants refuse to serve water. Instead they sell beverages made at the Pepsi plant, the largest private water customer of the RWSA.

    3. School children are told to use alcohol cleaners instead of sinks. Obviously you cannot remove dirt with alcohol cleaners, but in addition many viruses survive just fine in it. Rinsing with plain water is more effective in that case!

    None of these measures were even questioned. Cville-Albemarle residents may be smart, but they tend to the sheepish attitude of a traditionally conservative place.

    So I don’t have much hope that when the issue is not chloramines but gravity feeds, we will be equipped.

  10. I’m a big supporter of Citizens for a sustainable water supply, bit I cringe every time I hear “We should be maintaining a sustainable water supply that does not require pumping most water uphill. “or anything else about pumping water uphill. Do you currently go down to the river to get your water? Every drop used every day has to be pumped from the Rivanna to the tanks on O-hill to supply the pressure in the system, or, alternately, water can be treated at the South Fork treatment plant and pumped into the system as potable water, though this requires as much force as pumping it to O-hill. With the new reservoir, water will just stop off for a bit at closer to the O-hill elevation but will still have to be pumped the rest of the way when needed. Other than making up for additional seepage and evaporation from the larger Ragged Mt. reservoir and the 2B gallons to initially fill it, how much water gets pumped how high will not change.
    What no one is talking about is the reason why the pipeline from SFRR to Ragged Mt. has to be so big, and that is because water will only be available to pump for storage on days when flow rates are greater than the 8M? gal per day that has to go downstream at SFRR and the 12-15M gal per day we have to pull out just to cover daily need. As SFRR silts in and becomes more of a swamp, the days when we can pull water out to store will dwindle. We will have gone from a self-filling reservoir with a vast watershed to a large out-of-stream one that we can only add water to when the flow rates through the South Fork Swamp allow it. If we experience another drought like 2002 and have to draw down Ragged Mt. significantly, instead of supplies being replenished upon the occurrence of even a modest rain event, as they would be now, increased flow rates might allow for a few days of pumping for storage in addition to daily needs. Severe droughts in the future will be worse and potentially last longer. Sure we’ll have enough storage initially to put off water restriction for longer, but unless and until it starts raining consistently again, droughts won’t go away.
    We’ll spend $200M and under certain circumstance be in worse shape.

  11. Andrew, thanks for the information. I don’t know why now one could produce that simple answer to me before.

    I do have a few concerns with that though. So if it’s only 4mg per liter, how many liters are we talking about? I’m guessing that once that additional math is done, it is still a significant number of pounds, probably at least enough to equate to fencing cattle out of one stream. I’ve seen an aquarium when Chloramine is reduced to nitrate/ite and the resulting water is still toxic to invertebrates and fish.

    Also, remember that a large part of the County is on public water but not public sewer (like pretty much all of Ivy). That means that the water most definitely doesn’t get the nitrogen removed later. Also, many of the big ways people use water (like watering a golf course or lawn) doesn’t result in the water getting treated. Indeed I could easily see an issue where someone’s lawn comes too close to a stream and they end up killing everything in the stream with the chloraminated water.

    My father made another interesting point too… For those that are on pubic water but not on public sewer, wouldn’t this end up killing the bacteria in the septic system thus rendering them ineffective at treating waste?

  12. I thought this community was smarter than this -so they pick the most expensive option to oversupply water for developers and the cheapest option for water quality for people and the environment . Guess we know who RWSA works for.

  13. The choramine issue is a very serious one..for many reasons.

    1.While it does reduce Chlorine Disinfection-by-products, (TTHMs and HAAs) it creates a new family of DBPs that are up to 100,000 times MORE toxic that TTHMs and HAAs that are regulated.
    2. The new DBPs include NDMA, Hydrazine, Iodoacetic Acids and DXAA – NDMA and Hydrazine are classified by EPA as “probable human carcinogens” yet they are unregulated for drinking water
    3.Acute health effects include respiratory (asthma) symptoms, persistent skin rashes that are similar to chemical burns, digestive issues.
    4. Fish and environmental effects- In McLean VA, a main break resulted in killing all aquatic life in 9 miles of Pimmit Run.
    5.Chloramine is the least effective biocide of the available alternatives. It is 2,000 times less effective in killing e-coli, rotaviruses and polio 1. The WHO has warned against sacrificing biocidal effectiveness for concerns over possible carcinogenic effect of TTHM and HAA.
    6.Homeland Security warns against allowing Chloramine on or near military bases. Chloramine will not react to a bio attack on our water system. Several bases have banned it on their property.
    7.Infrastructure – chloramine pits copper pipes, leaches lead and literally ‘eats’ rubber and elastomer fittings.
    8.Chloramine cannot be effectively filtered out of the water nor can it be boiled or evaporated out. The byproducts are not capable of reduction or elimination by filtration.
    The upside of its low cost only benefits the RWSA, not the residents. The disadvantages all apply to the customers and environment.

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