Attentive water system operators from around Arizona, who face a January 2006 deadline to meet stringent new standards for arsenic in drinking water, studied technology and services offered by about two dozen vendors Wednesday to help them comply.
The Arsenic Technology Fair held at Centennial Hall in Mesa was sponsored by the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality to inform small water companies about available treatment technologies.
The new standard announced by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in October 2001 sets the maximum concentration of arsenic in public water supplies at 10 parts per billion, down from the current level of 50 parts per billion.
The new regulation will hit Arizona suppliers hard because of the relatively high arsenic content in the state’s groundwater supplies — the result of naturally occurring minerals in the state’s underground rock formations.
ADEQ director Steve Owens estimated that Arizona water operators, including municipal water systems and private water companies, will have to collectively spend between $75 million and $125 million a year to install and operate equipment needed to comply with the new standard. Much of that cost figures to be passed on to their water customers.
Large municipal systems operated by such cities as Scottsdale and Mesa can handle the added cost by spreading it over a large number of customers, Owens said. But small water companies in rural areas with relatively few customers face big challenges in financing the technical improvements, he said.
ADEQ has tried to reduce the cost by developing a master plan for small operators to follow in determining how to be cost effecting in meeting the standard, he said. Also the state’s Water Infrastructure Finance Authority has money available for low-cost loans for system improvements, he said.
"There seems to be many smaller companies that are hoping a new magic bullet technology will appear closer to the deadline that will solve their problems," Owens said. "We have been trying to convey to them that is unlikely to happen, and they need to take action now."
Companies that produce treatment systems said their technologies are affordable and relatively simple to operate. Rich Cavagnaro, president of Adedge Technologies, a Georgia-based company, displayed a system that treats 100 gallons of water a minute for $50,000 to $60,000.
"This technology is 50 (percent) to 75 percent lower cost than the EPA estimated it would cost (to meet the new standard)," he said.
So far Adedge has sold systems to the New River, Bumblebee Ranch, Rimrock, Black Canyon City and Cliff Castle Casino in Arizona, he said. Several water system owners and operators said, however, the new regulation will cause financial hardships for themselves and their customers. For example, Steve Gay, operator/manager of the Las Quintas Serenas Water Co., which serves about 900 customers near Tucson, said the cost of compliance will be greater than the current value of the entire system.
Joseph Fiano, a Fountain Hills-based consultant for small water systems, predicted that some small systems will avoid the regulation by dividing themselves into smaller units with fewer than 15 customer hookups.
So far the hardest hit system has been Rimrock, which serves an area near Sedona, said Marlin Scott Jr., engineer in the utilities division of the Arizona Corporation Commission.
It has received approval from the commission to charge an additional $35 a month per service connection to cover its arsenic expenses, which compares with current average charges of about $18 a month, he said.
Despite the cost, Owens said the tighter standard is justified because research has established a connection between exposure to arsenic and higher rates of bladder and lung cancer.
He said that the issue was thoroughly studied by the National Science Foundation, which supported the 10 parts per billion standard.