Eltopia residents are hoping to win a federal grant to finish a project that will let them drink the well water they pay for.
Their water system has a history of high levels of arsenic and nitrates, and homeowners have been warned not to drink the water.
That's part of the reason the Eltopia Water Association, which serves 24 single-family residences and one church, is trying to build a new well and upgrade its water system.
Nitrates reduce the ability of red blood cells to carry oxygen and can result in "blue baby syndrome," in which infants have difficulty getting oxygen, according to the state Department of Health. Arsenic can increase the risk of cancer and cause skin damage and circulatory problems.
Franklin County commissioners agreed last week to support the Eltopia Water Association's application for a $600,000 Community Development Block Grant in 2011 to help pay for the $842,000 project.
Without the grant, the association won't be able to finish the project's second phase, which includes connecting the new well to the water system, building a new reservoir and booster station, replacing water lines and adding service meters, said Christy Batayola, project engineer at Pasco's Harms Engineering Inc.
"Because we are a small system that serves primarily low- to moderate-income households, it is difficult for us to finance the work necessary to address our system's numerous deficiencies that include high arsenic, high nitrates, low pressures and inadequate storage," said Ivan Halverson, water association president, in an Aug. 31 letter.
The association will use a $242,000 loan from the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund to pay for phase one of the project, Batayola said. It includes designing, building and testing a well.
The current well is on Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway property, Batayola said. The new well will be at a different location and use a different aquifer.
The association recently increased its monthly rates to $30. That bumps up to $40 in 2011 and to $50 in 2012 to repay the loan, according to the grant application.
The group earlier received grant help to plan the project. The state Department of Health awarded a $30,000 grant, and the association also received a $35,000 Community Development Block Grant for planning, Batayola said.
Residents have been drinking bottled water or using treatment systems in their homes, according to the grant application.
The association has had arsenic and nitrates in its water for a long time. But Batayola said the arsenic levels weren't above the legal limit until the Environmental Protection Agency lowered it from 50 parts per billion to 10 parts per billion. For example, in 1984, the arsenic level tested at 29 parts per billion.
Water systems had to comply with the new limit on Jan. 23, 2006, she said.
The well's arsenic level was most recently measured at 19 parts per billion Sept. 12, Batayola said, or almost twice the limit.
The Department of Health requires the association to test for arsenic quarterly and to determine how to fix the system to comply with the new limit, Batayola said. A new well was determined to be the best option, and other improvements were required to meet pressure, storage and metering requirements.
Nitrates were measured at 6.5 parts per million, which was below the limit of 10 parts per million, she said. The nitrate level has fluctuated, and in the past has been above the limit.
The project also will fix the water system's pressure and water storage issues. Batayola said the reservoir is old, cracked and not large enough for the system. It's important to have enough storage so water still can be available if a connection to the source is lost, she said.
The water system also has lower pressure than the 30 pounds per square inch required by the state, Batayola said. That means it takes longer to fill up a washing machine and showers may drip more than spray water.
"We are addressing both health issues and reliability issues," she said.
This is the group's second try for a grant to pay the last phase of construction.
But Batayola said this time the group is ready to start the project, with water rights secured and the state-required Small Water Systems Management Plan completed.
If the association receives the grant, Batayola said the project will be done by the end of 2013.
Kristi Pihl: 582-1512; email@example.com