The city of Ripon is expected to discontinue using fluoride in its drinking water in the coming months to better comply with state regulations for storing chemicals at water utilities.
That much and more were discussed by officials during last week Monday’s Ripon Common Council meeting.
During the meeting, utility officials presented the key points from the 2022 Sanitary Survey Report for the Ripon Water Utility, which found deficiencies and non-compliance issues within the city’s water system.
Every three years, a DNR engineer conducts a tour of the Ripon water utility’s wells and water towers to ensure the city is in compliance with DNR standards.
Although there were deficiencies identified this time around, Water Utility Manager Jeremy Jess, Lead Operator David Laviolette and City Administrator Adam Sonntag noted the city performed better this time than it did in 2019.
“Our last sanitary survey in 2019 was not good and this year was actually much better. We made a lot of improvements,” Laviolette said. “We’re kind of happy about that. Despite the improvements, we do have a few things we want to just present to the council.”
The DNR identified at least two significant deficiencies and four non-significant deficiencies.
Significant deficiencies are identified as the “highest priority to correct by a certain date” and are usually issues where there’s non-compliance with state administrative code or present an “immediate” health risk, according to the presentation.
Meanwhile, non-significant deficiencies also must be addressed by a certain date and relate to non-compliance issues or present a possible health risk.
The first significant deficiency identified by the DNR was related to the storage of chlorine and fluoride chemical feeds in the same room at three out of four city wells.
The presentation said chlorine gas and hydrofluorosilicic acid are hazardous and potentially deadly chemicals if they ever mixed outside of being injected into finished water.
To comply with DNR regulations, the city would need to separate the chemicals with a physical barrier, which could require installing a wall between them or constructing a new room.
The city looked at potentially building a separate room for the chemicals, but the estimated cost it received was roughly $125,000 per addition.
The second option, which the city plans to pursue, is temporarily suspending feeding fluoride into Ripon’s water supply to bring it into compliance with the DNR and to design two new wells with proper chemical containment to restart fluoride feeding at a later date.
Jess said halting fluoride in the water shouldn’t cause negative effects for residents, especially if they brush their teeth regularly.
That’s because Ripon’s water currently has a fluoride level of 0.35 milligrams per liter, whereas a person typically consumes 1.2 milligrams of fluoride when brushing their teeth.
“This meets your daily recommended consumption of fluoride, so … if you brush your teeth, you don’t need to treat the water with fluoride,” Jess said.
Discontinuing fluoride treatment in the city’s water could help save money for future infrastructure projects, the utility manager noted.
He added that temporarily removing fluoride treatment would create a minimum $300,000 cost savings that could be invested into future wells with proper structures.
“Our wells are old, as everyone knows, [and] buildings need to be renovated or abandoned,” Jess said. “Well No. 5 was built in ’31. The master plan calls for the abandonment of Well No. 5 within the next three to eight years. Well No. 6 and Well No. 8 are also old, with the buildings needing to be renovated — if they are not abandoned.”
The second significant deficiency was related to overflow piping at Ripon’s reservoirs. Two of Ripon’s overflow pipes are facing the wrong direction.
Both overflow pipes must be rotated 90 degrees toward the ground, and the DNR wants the city to drain the pipes onto riprap to reduce erosion. The city anticipates completing that work in Spring 2023.
“We need to, of course, [complete] plan review and get approval by the DNR,” Laviolette said. “Documents for the plan review must be prepared by a professional engineer certified in Wisconsin. We currently have [an engineering firm] drafting documents for the plan review.”
In terms of non-significant deficiencies, the city must work to identify if lead, copper, galvanized iron and other materials are in its distribution system.
It has data on the public side, but needs to complete more than 4,000 surveys during private inspections and meter exchanges by October 2023.
Additionally, the city will work to identify why it has high water loss.
Due to the age of Ripon’s water system, it is expected to have 10% to 15% lost water each year, but actually has between 20% and 30% — with several years above 30%.
The city plans to hire a firm to conduct a leak survey of hydrants, main valves and water services. It also will test and replace water meters based on a list of meters not tested on a regular schedule.
Sonntag noted the 30% water loss could present a problem when the city applies to the Wisconsin Public Service Commission (PSC) for a rate case study to potentially increase water rates.
“The PSC is going to look into that [and say], ‘You have 30% water loss. You need to figure that out because you should be billing for that,’” the city administrator said. “… This is one of the long-standing things that Jeremy and I have talked a lot about and needs to be figured out. We can no longer sit back and just accept 30% water loss like we have for the last 5 to 10 years.”
Another issue identified include an improperly vented reservoir at Well No. 8.
Overall, the city’s water utility is doing better than it was three years ago, but still has much to do.
When Sonntag read the 2019 survey about a year and a half ago, the final line read, “It has been determined that the water system does not have adequate technical, managerial and financial capacity to deliver water to customers and does not satisfy the requirements set in the Safe Drinking Water Act.”
This year’s report doesn’t say that.
“That’s a testament to Jeremy and his team taking control of some of these long-standing issues that have been out there in the water system,” Sonntag said. “As you can see, this issue is going to cost money and be a time commitment for our staff. We will continue to do our best to adequately manage this stuff and bring forward issues as they come up.”
*Original full-text article online at: https://www.riponpress.com/news/changes-coming-to-ripon-s-water-utility-city-will-temporarily-stop-fluoride-treatment/article_4f0d0cd0-440c-11ed-bbc6-ab9dccba1b85.html