MUB taps into resources to preserve water supply

The Dominion Post

May 04–FEDERAL water-safety reports about 10 years old. Page 6-A. COMING MONDAY: MUB hires Downstream Industries.

West Virginia American Water has only one intake for its Charleston water treatment plant. When the Freedom Industries chemical spill reached that intake, the utility elected not to close it off.

Utility President Jeff McIntyre repeatedly explained why during the development of state Senate Bill (SB) 373: Leaky pipes caused by the big freeze, high water demand and low storage levels, with some tanks near empty, meant that closing the supply would have depressurized the system, leaving no water available for sanitation or firefighting. It would have taken a month to replenish and re-pressurize the system.

Morgantown Utility Board (MUB) doesn’t face that problem, General Manager Tim Ball said. Its main intake is on the Monongahela River. It has a second intake, a backup reservoir, and is looking to do more.

MUB’s second intake is on the Cobun Creek reservoir — an artificial lake created by an earthen dam, and surrounded by scenic walking trails near White Park. It holds 60 million gallons — a six-day backup supply for MUB’s 24,724 customers (about 75,000 people).

MUB issued a Request For Proposal (RFP) to expand its backup raw water supply, and expected to interview candidates on its short list May 1.

MUB makes frequent use of the reservoir, Ball said. Diesel spills on the Mon River are relatively common, Ball said. They can shut the river intake and switch to Cobun Creek Reservoir within minutes.

The hired consultant will examine two main options. One expands the existing reservoir to 90 million gallons — stretching the backup supply to nine days. But, Ball said, “Six to nine days is not that much of a cushion.”

The second creates a second reservoir farther upstream MUB owns land near the intersection of Cobun Creek Road and Monongalia County Route 119/6, east of Grafton Road. It would hold 12 million gallons — another 12 days.

During the discussions for the second reservoir, MUB staff was pleased and amazed to find an existing plan for a second dam, drafted 50 years ago. “Those guys were clearly thinking ahead,” Ball said.

The consultant will also evaluate the existing Cobun Creek water line, prepare estimates to replace and supplement the line, and look at the interrelationship of the two reservoirs and whether they should operate in parallel or in series.

Into the future

MUB has other ideas to protect its supply — not on the immediate horizon, but ideas.

The Morgantown Industrial Park is a source of concern, Ball said — with gas wells, chemical plants and more. It’s a short distance upstream of MUB’s intake on the Mon, so utility officials talked about another intake farther upstream.

Going as far as the Interstate 79 Uffington Bridge would cost about $5 million — but so much traffic crosses the bridge — including container trucks of all types — that it might be better to go even farther downstream. The price tag grows with distance, and going to the Opekiska Lock and Dam would cost $34 million.

Cheat Lake is another possible water supply. An overland route from the lake would run about $39.6 million. An alternate starting upstream of the lake then paralleling the first route could cost about $29 million.

Mon Power owns the lake, Ball said, and might not be interested in sharing the water it uses for power generation. A third possible route runs from the Cheat River mouth and down along the Mon, for about $34.3 million.

Another possibility is a treatment plant on Cheat Lake. They haven’t looked at those numbers, but estimated cost is $30 million for the line plus another $30 million to $50 million for the plant.

“I’m not saying we’re going to do any of them,” but these have been avenues to consider following the Elk River spill, Ball said.

Teaming with other local utilities could be possible, someday, he said. Fairmont and Clarksburg have treatment plants about the same size as MUB’s. MUB’s plant has a capacity of 16 million gallons day a day, but uses only 10 million — allowing for 6 million that could be sent to a partner.

In theory, any two plants could supply a partner town suffering a total shutdown, he said. Of course, there are obstacles: Clarksburg would need an upgrade to get to that capacity.

And there are the costs: $47.5 million to connect to Fairmont; and $58 million to connect Fairmont to Clarksburg.

“It’s just an idea,” Ball said, maybe 50 years down the road. “Nobody’s going to get there unless we start thinking about it.”

The non-magic box

A monitoring device called a gas chromatograph with mass spectrometer caught the attention of legislators during the session. There was an effort to require, in SB 373, that every public water supplier explore hooking one to their system — but that didn’t survive.

Jerry Schulte, with the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission (ORSANCO), told legislators that eight utility intakes along the Ohio River system have the devices. They cost $150,000 apiece, can detect 30 chemicals identified as potential contaminants and have a library of 1,000 other chemicals they can recognize. MCHM, never tagged as a contaminant, is not one of the 30, but is one of those 1,000.

Schulte said five such devices are in West Virginia, ranging from St. Albans to Weirton, but none in Charleston.

Legislators latched onto that idea, although Tom Curtis, deputy executive director of American Water Works Association, told them, “I am not aware of any magic box you can plug into the water system.” A user must look for something specific and test for it. Its 4,000 member utilities test for contaminants based on Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards.

Ball said MUB has considered the device, but buying one seems unlikely. “There’s no magic box that can test blindly for whatever arrives. To some degree you have to know what you’re looking for in order to look for it.”

The expense isn’t the major criteria, but acquiring one doesn’t appear justified because it doesn’t deliver the certainty, Ball said.

But MUB will put out for bids for another device: A total organic carbons monitor. It’s straightforward, reliable, simple and likely to show a change if a pollutant arrives, he said.

MUB already has realtime monitoring for temperature, pH and conductivity, Ball said. “Adding total organic carbons gives a fairly wide-ranging set of indicators. But it only indicates something has changed. You have to find out what it is.”

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Waterways Council, Inc.