In a step toward solving Lawrence’s problems of foul tasting and smelling water, the city staff has been authorized to negotiate a contract with Burns & McDonnell to study how to address the situation.
The City Commission gave the go-ahead Tuesday night in a meeting dominated by discussion of the city’s legislative priorities for 2013. There was no discussion about the water issue. Details concerning timing of the contract or whether the city ultimately is willing to raise water rates to fix the problem will be discussed at a study session, which remains to be scheduled. Once the contract with the engineering firm is settled, the report should be available to the city in about six months.
A ballpark price for addressing the unpleasant taste and odor with advanced ozone equipment is $18.5 million, although less expensive alternatives may be suggested by Burns & McDonnell. Presently the city relies primarily on carbon powder to filter its water supplies. Under ordinary conditions, that’s effective. But last summer, especially high levels of geosmin, a nontoxic algae byproduct, overwhelmed the ability of existing treatment to eliminate the geosmin’s foul taste and odor.
The city already is part of a study in which the U.S. Geological Survey and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are trying to learn more about geosmin, a compound that is produced when algae die.
The city-ordered engineering report on water treatment alternatives is expected to look at ways to improve the processes being used and to examine additional treatment options. The city certainly is prudent to take the step of getting such a report, even though it’s clear that, in the end, the conclusion is likely to be that all it will take, basically, to solve the problem is money. Then the issue will become how much the city and taxpayers are willing to spend to solve what has been an intermittent issue.
As David Wagner, the city’s director of utilities opined, “It really will end up being a community value decision.”