In an effort to diminish or eliminate the presence of certain chemicals in drinking water on Long Island, Suffolk County Water Authority plans to install 56 new Advanced Oxidation Process treatment systems at existing well fields.
“Each new AOP must be pilot tested and approved by the NYS Department of Health before it can be put in service,” said Tim Hopkins, SCWA's chief legal officer, adding that SCWA is in constant contact with the state Department of Health regarding the process.
The advanced treatment of water will have the ability to remove 1, 4-Dioxane from the water. Additionally, the chemicals PFOA and PFOS — common in things like stainmaster carpet, firefighting foam and once used in Teflon pots — have been documented to have concerning levels in the drinking water. Joe Pokorny, SCWA's deputy chief executive officer for operations said it is one of the most heavily used products in the building industry and commercial products.
Fortunately, SCWA already had the technology in place at a slew of locations for treating this but for other purposes. It is called Granular Activated Carbon treatment.
“We already had carbon in place for that. The good fortune is that that same carbon that was in place for that also takes out the PFOS and PFOA. We have quite a few wells that are impacted by that,” Pokorny said, adding an additional 20 GACs (bringing the total to 155) would bring SCWA within compliance with the new regulations for PFOS and PFOA. “When it comes to this emerging contaminant, we feel that the county's water supply is in pretty good shape. We are going to be able to have everything in service. Right now, we are using a strategy of turning off wells if they are impacted or if we don't have treatment of them. By the time we start turning wells back on for the next summer peak, which is how we kind of operate. In the fall and winter, people are not consuming water. If we had an impacted well, we had the good fortune to be able to turn it off for now.”
SCWA currently has $13.3 million in acquired grant funds allocated toward this project. However, the capital for the project (not to mention operational expenses) will require hundreds of millions of dollars.
“We are suing the polluters,” Pokorny said. “We have two different litigations going right now: one for PFOA and PFOS and one for 1, 4-Dioxane.”
Pokorny explained that the damages associated with the lawsuits will go directly toward this cause. The idea is to have the companies that contaminated the water in the first place to essentially pay for the extensive chemical removal process. It is noteworthy, however, that the project moving forward is not contingent on collecting damages from the two suits.
SCWA anticipates applying for state grant funding to construct 14 additional AOPs, with each AOP estimated to cost $2.5 million just in capital cost, but that number varies based on the characteristics and location of the well.
“The cost that these grants cover is really the capital cost of construction,” Pokorny said. “There is an additional cost of operating these systems over their lifetime. That really isn't contemplated by the grants.”
Hopkins furthered Pokorny's point.
“You have to factor in 30 or 40 years of operational cost. All of these wells are going to require more carbon. They are going to require more manpower to operate these filtration systems. The equipment has to be changed out as it wears out,” Hopkins said. “This really escalates the finish cost of it.”
Implementing the drinking water standards immediately is difficult, Hopkins explained, because of the extensive state permitting process and construction of treatment systems at 76 sites that will take five to six years to finish. SCWA has approximately 600 total wells.
In January 2020, a Water Quality Treatment Charge was instituted by SCWA to pay for the cost to install new water treatment systems throughout our distribution system. The $20 charged to each customer per quarter equates to $0.22 per day. This charge remains necessary, though that may be subject to change, considering an upcoming review of the general charge.
It was key for SCWA to receive approval from the state DOH in 2018 that pioneering AOP treatment system, which, combined with use of GAC filtering, can remediate the contamination issues.
Lastly, SCWA officials say that the NYS Assembly is awaiting the passing of an upcoming piece of legislation that would provide for the reimbursement of emerging contaminant grants by the responsible parties. It has already passed in the Senate and is awaiting action in the Assembly. Tens of millions of dollars could potentially be returned to state coffers in this case.