Annual report on Devola water is released
By Michael Kelly
The Marietta Times
Good water is essential to a stable community, and Devola seems to have that element under control.
The Putnam Community Water Corporation issued its 2017 water quality report this month, and it suggests that the $2.5 million treatment plant built in 2013 is doing its job.
Jay Huck is the manger and sole full-time employee for the system. On Wednesday morning he stood in the main room on the second floor of the brick building on River Road, explaining the treatment process.
The room was spotless and looked fresh as the day it opened five years ago. Color coded pipes the size of an Arnold Schwartzenegger bicep run up walls and across the ceilings, and the room’s ambient noise level is somewhere between a loud hum and a roar. Conversation is carried on just short of yelling.
The plant consists of two buildings, the eastern one sitting atop the community’s two wells, with a pump to bring up the raw water from the aquifer 50 feet below. The pressurized water is piped into the western building, where the treatment equipment takes up the entire second floor.
In the treatment room, racks of reverse osmosis modules sit in racks, resembling blunt white torpedos. The water is pumped through the modules, removing a range of contaminants that include salts of calcium and magnesium, and nitrates.
It was the nitrates that made the plant necessary, Huck said.
“The EPA (Ohio Environmental Protection Agency) told us we had to do something about the nitrates, but they didn’t tell us how to do it,” he said. “This is what we felt the community wanted, and it keeps local control over the water system, it’s self-sufficient.”
The system treats and pumps about 175,000 gallons of water a day for about 950 customers, he said.
The lab analysis shows all tests well below any action levels prescribed by the EPA. Nitrates ranged from 2.85 to 4.06 milligrams per liter, less than half the maximum allowed, according to the corporation’s 2017 report to its customers, which came out this week.
Also measured was the amount of lead, copper, barium, radium and other contaminants in the water.
Nitrates can come from a number of sources, including agricultural operations, decaying vegetation and leaking septic tanks or misused dry disposal wells. Devola’s septic tanks have been suspected as one of the sources of excess nitrates in the community’s wells, and a legal battle between Washington County and the city of Marietta has been one prominent outcome of disagreement on the origins of the chemicals, with the city having beefed up its sewage treatment capacity in anticipation of building a sanitary sewerage system in Devola and the county having resisted the expense it would inflict on the community’s property owners.
Hardness of the water had been a persistent complaint before the treatment system came on line, but now, Huck said, the hardness has been reduced by two-thirds. It’s measured by the presence of calcium and magnesium salts, and people notice it usually when their soaps fail to lather and the laundry comes out with a yellowish pall. It also leaves rings on glassware and deposits on bathtubs, usually called soap scum but actually made up of chemical scale deposits.
The reverse osmosis system, he said, removes so much of the hardness that it’s necessary to reblend some of the native water with the treated water before it goes into the disinfection stage.
“It’s partially remixed to restore some of the calcium,” he said. “Water that is too soft is corrosive, and the calcium acts as a smoothing agent.”
It’s a matter of getting the chemistry right so that water doesn’t eat the distribution lines nor does it create deposits and clog them up, he said.
“It’s a balance between corrosiveness and scaliness,” he said.
The Devola water after the complete treatment process, he said, is at about 80 milligrams per liter of hardness – the combined content of calcium and magnesium salts – which is a significant improvement over the pre-treatment-plant times, when the hardness index was about 300.
By comparison, Marietta’s water was at 119 mg/L, according to information on the city’s website.
Huck said the water leaving the reserve osmosis system is treated with orthophosphate to balance the acidity and sodium hypochlorite as a disinfectant. The residue-laden water from the reverse osmosis process is sent into the river, he said.
Longtime Devola resident Guthrie Chamberlain said that although most people he knows use a household filtration system, which can range from elaborate equipment attached to the plumbing to a pitcher in the refrigerator using a small filter, the water is drinkable the way it arrives at the sink.
“I don’t have any complaints about it,” he said. “It’s fine straight out of the tap. I don’t have any issues with the taste or the smell.”
The cost of water for Devola residents reflects the large investment made in the treatment plant, with a basic water bill of $70 a month that includes the first 6,000 gallons of water, a recent increase from 4,000 gallons. To compare the service to Marietta, which charges $51 for basic service and the first 7,500 gallons, Devola residents would pay about $77.50.
“The cost, for all they have to do to it now, I think it’s reasonable,” Chamberlain said. “It’s a lot higher than it used to be, but they’ve had to put in a lot more infrastructure.”
Huck is a lifelong Devola resident, a farm owner, and has been running the water system since 1990.
“They were looking for somebody, so I took this job,” he said.
The new system, he said, has proven more efficient than anyone expected. The reverse osmosis tanks include 72 cylindrical membranes about three feet long and several inches in diameter, which can be changed when required.
“We haven’t had to change any of them yet,” he said.
¯Number of customers: 950.
¯Volume of water treated and pumped: 175,000 gallons per day.
¯Source: Two wells, emergency connection to Highland Ridge Water.
¯Basic monthly service charge (up to 6,000 gallons): $70 (just increased from 4,000 gallons).
¯Basic monthly service charge in Marietta: About $51 for water (based on 1,000 cubic feet of water consumption, which equals about 7,500 gallons); sewer charges are additional.
¯Marietta hardness: 119.
(Note: hardness is measured by the presence of calcium and magnesium salts, as parts per million or milligrams per liter, which are mathematically the same).
Sources: Putnam Community Water Corp., City of Marietta, Times research.
To view the full report:
¯ putnamwater.com, click on Quality Reports