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Willits’ Arsenic Question

Sunday, Nov. 7, 2021 — Hello reader, hope you had a good week. Seems like the week has literally flown by this time with so much to do and so little time. Nobody can get it done in one day! Keep putting one foot in front of the other and good things will come.

NEWSBOY researched the reality of arsenic entering the Willits water supply if plans to connect another well into the city’s groundwater system do not change.

Arsenic: just say “no” or is it the best way to improve water supply?

A City of Willits project to increase the town’s water supply would also put arsenic into drinking water that so far remains arsenic-free.

When the city’s groundwater project first began, it was an emergency effort to sustain a water supply for the community in 2014-15.

The city’s reservoir-dependent system was in peril that winter. Running out of water at the city’s reservoirs was a real concern before rain finally came.

In a do-or-die race against a dwindling surface water supply, the city succeeded in engineering a project to connect a well and a new water treatment plant on the valley floor.

State regulators accepted the emergency system for regular drinking water use in 2017.

Plans to connect a second well that contains arsenic into the groundwater project creates the arsenic problem.

The results of lab tests carried out by Ukiah-based Alpha Labs for the city show that the original well, the “Elias Well,” is clean of arsenic and the well that the city proposes connecting, the Long-20 well, contains arsenic.

2017 Long-20 test results obtained from the city show varying arsenic levels in three water samples, Zone 1, Zone 2 and Zone 3.

Test results show 210 ug/L from the Zone 1 sample, 16 ug/L from Zone 2 and 27 ug/L from Zone 3.

California and the Environmental Protection Agency’s standard is 10 ug/L for treated water. Keep in mind that 1 ug/l is also 1 part-per-billion.

Consulting firm LACO Associates prepared the city’s study. LACO’s study references a 2019 test of Long-20 water that showed 28 ug/l of arsenic.

When water use is the highest, a single well, the Elias Well, could yield about half of what the city needs during peak usage that normally happens in Aug., the study stated.

Arsenic introduced into the system would have to be at or below the legal levels.

Willits’ study explains how there is a phase of the project dedicated to finding out what arsenic the water treatment plant can handle.

Attaining lower levels of arsenic in the two-well scenario may include mixing water from both wells so that the treatment plant can handle it, the study stated.

City council members consider approval of documents for the project Wednesday.

City council members could also choose to take action and express concern that putting arsenic in the water supply needs to be avoided.

Yet with drought or more water use from much-needed development or a combination of both, the city could be looking outside its two reservoirs for water like it did before.

With or without arsenic, you may wonder if there is a policy or manual in place for activation of the groundwater system or if it can be operated arbitrarily, for example.

Concerns about water security or quality summarize the city’s interest in a two-well groundwater system.

For instance, in 2015 the city experienced an algae bloom and incurred violations for exceeding levels of TTHM--a byproduct of the water treatment process, the study stated.

Long term exposure to TTHMs or Total Trihalomethanes above EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) maximum levels, for example, would have potential for “liver, kidney or central nervous system problems (and) increased risk of cancer,” information from the EPA stated.

When reading about drinking water standards you see that arsenic in drinking water is not illegal, but it should be avoided.

The EPA says that a water provider’s goal is “0” arsenic but it is not enforceable as a law.

A goal of “0” in the EPA’s list of Maximum Contaminant Level Goals means there is no known level of arsenic that guarantees no ill-effects.

The World Health Organization provides information on arsenic’s danger and the trouble caused world-wide when populations are exposed to high levels in drinking water.

A fact sheet published by WHO stated that “The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified arsenic and arsenic compounds as carcinogenic to humans, and has also stated that arsenic in drinking-water is carcinogenic to humans.

Other adverse health effects that may be associated with long-term ingestion of inorganic arsenic include developmental effects, diabetes, pulmonary disease, and cardiovascular disease.”

Drinking water standards that are enforceable state that the Maximum Contaminant Level of arsenic is set at 10-parts-per-billion.

Ill.-based Water Quality Association calls itself a trade organization.

WQA puts it this way: “MCLs are set as close to the MCLG as possible, considering cost, benefits and the ability of public water systems to detect and remove contaminants using suitable treatment technologies.”

You have to ask why the city insists on connecting a well with arsenic into the system?

If you are concerned about this or if you think it is a good idea, there is a public hearing Wednesday Nov. 10.

The city council is set to vote on whether or not the project warrants a full-fledged Environmental Impact Report this Wednesday.

In the legal notices put out by the city, you can comment on the project the following ways before 5:30 PM Tuesday: engineering@cityofwillits.org or at City Hall: Clerk’s Office, 111 E Commercial ST, Willits, CA 95490

Note that individual council members can always be reached the following ways:

  • Gerardo Gonzalez ggonzalez@cityofwillits.org (707) 456-3404
  • Saprina Rodriguez srodriguez@cityofwillits.org (707) 456-3405
  • Larry Stranske citycouncil@cityofwillits.org (707) 456-3401
  • Madge Strong mstrong@cityofwillits.org (707) 456-3403
  • Greta Kanne gkanne@cityofwillits.org (707) 456-3402

Comments can also be made during the public hearing.

This meeting will be remote due to the virus, so you need to do:

1. https://global.gotomeeting.com/join/222161885

Or 2. Call 1 (669) 224-3412 Code: 222-161-885

2 Comments

  1. Lazarus November 14, 2021

    Supposedly, the item got yanked from the Agenda. The Brass may not have had all the ducks in a row.
    And the drums say the pushback was getting heavy.
    Be Swell,
    Laz

  2. Lazarus November 15, 2021

    I came across this recently.
    Laz

    Willits’ arsenic question update

    Zack Cinek
    Nov 12, 2021

    Friday, Nov. 11, 2021

    Zack Cinek/NEWSBOY can be reached at (707) 613-0369 or newsboy.zack@gmail.com.

    Arsenic? Willits just said “no”

    City Hall eliminated it’s water project from the meeting agenda Wednesday–a project that would have allowed arsenic into the Willits water supply.

    The city’s project aimed to connect an arsenic contaminated well, the Long-20 well, into the city’s groundwater system on the valley floor.

    Long-20 will be removed from a news scaled-back project, City Manager Brian Bender said at the beginning of the council meeting. Bender acknowledged public concerns and resistance.

    Willits’ water system has two reservoirs south of city limits and a water treatment plant that serves the reservoirs.

    Willits delivered a monthly average of about 19.8 million gallons from 2016 to 2020, the city stated.

    The question of arsenic came from further developing a separate water supply, the city’s groundwater system, situated on the floor of Little Lake Valley.

    A super dry winter in 2014-’15 led to a true emergency before rain came. The city’s reservoirs dwindled and the city needed to act fast and engineer a back-up water supply.

    A well named Elias Well connected to water treatment equipment was the result of those efforts.

    What began as an emergency project was no longer classified as an emergency water project.

    Water regulators accepted the former emergency project with one well as a regular supply of drinking water in 2017, the city stated.

    The arsenic question came from further development of the project. A project that sought to connect a second well, the Long-20 well, into the system.

    Test results obtained from the city showed samples of water from Long-20 with arsenic detected at levels of 210 ug/l, 16 ug/l and 27 ug/l in samples labeled Zone 1, 2 and 3.

    The City’s environmental documents (Initial Study and Mitigated Negative Declaration) made clear that the project beckoned in water from the arsenic-positive Long-20 well.

    Drinking water standards from the state and the Environmental Protection Agency do regulate arsenic levels.

    The law permits drinking water to contain up to 10 part-per-billion of arsenic and the project would have met that standard, the study stated.

    It was explained in the study that arsenic levels in the treated water would not have been known until the city conducted tests on Long-20 water from the water treatment plant.

    Consulting firm LACO Associates wrote the city’s environmental documents for this project. The documents state that the groundwater system is for what the reservoirs cannot provide.

    You may wonder, since it is no longer an emergency project, how are decisions going to be made to turn the system on or off with or without the arsenic well.

    The document for the project was in a period of public review last month.

    Letterswere submitted to the city last month when the environmental documents were up for public review. Opposition goes beyond the arsenic question.

    Environmentalist David Drell, Mendocino County Farm Bureau, attorney Chris Neary (as himself) and an Arcata attorney representing unnamed parties filed correspondence with the city that raised other questions, too.

    Those comments cast allegations towards the city about compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act or harm that the groundwater system could do to the aquifer and other private wells on nearby farmland.

    During the council meeting, the city’s Bender said he expected the project to return in early 2022.

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