City changes water disinfectants

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By Madison McVan

The City of Liberty Hill began treating drinking water with chloramines on July 22, replacing chlorine as the primary water disinfectant.

City and public works department staff made the change after deciding to use surface water from Lake Travis in addition to existing well water in order to keep water pressure and quality at a safe level.

The City informed water customers of the change on July 22, the day it went into effect, through notices posted on their front doors.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality usually requires that water distributors notify customers of a change from free chlorine to chloramines at least 14 days prior to the conversion, but the City received an exemption from TCEQ because the flow of water to fire hydrants was becoming too low, said City Administrator Greg Boatright.

“We didn’t want to put the city at risk,” he said. “As dry as it is, anything could happen, and the last thing we want is for first responders to get to a scene and have the water not work.”

The notice states that “the change is intended to benefit our customers by reducing the levels of disinfection byproducts (DBPs) in the system, while still providing protection from waterborne disease.”

The notice also warns dialysis machine users that “hemolytic anemia can occur if the disinfectant is not completely removed from the water that is used for dialysis.”

It also directs fish tank owners to ensure that the filters they use are designed to filter out chloramines, because chloraminated water may be toxic to fish.

Boatwright said on Wednesday morning that the City has not received any complaints regarding the new disinfectant.

Chloramines are formed when ammonia is added to chlorine, and provide longer-lasting protection than chlorine alone. They’ve been used to disinfect water for over 90 years, and use has increased in recent years due to new regulations intended to limit disinfection byproducts, according to the Environmental Protection Agency website.

“[The change] is a combination of a few things,” said Public Works Director Wayne Bonnet. “We’re getting water from Leander and our disinfectant has to match theirs.”

The City of Leander has used chloramines to disinfect drinking water for over 15 years.

Bonnet also explained that chloramines are the preferred disinfectant for surface water, which the City recently began using in addition to ground water. The public works department is working with TCEQ to ensure they meet all water quality standards.

Liberty Hill resident Shannon Lavender didn’t learn about the change until the notice was posted on her door. After doing research on chloramines, she had many questions about the city’s water disinfection and the decision-making process that she felt the notice did not address.

“Just having a Master’s in Public Health and learning about the history of chlorination of water in this country, my first question was, ‘Why would we change it?’ It works,” she said.

The decision was made internally by the city and did not have any public input.

“Something like drinking water, which has the potential to impact your livelihood, your health, the environment… I am just shocked that the first I’d heard of it was after they’d made a change,” Lavender said.

The City of Liberty Hill distributes water to approximately 680 customers.

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