Audience at Four Boards meeting July 25, 2012 Credit: Credit: Andrew Shurtleff, The Daily Progress

Late in a rare joint meeting of the four boards that manage the community water supply, the tide turned for local decision makers.

It looked like the chloramines vs. granular activated carbon debate would continue for another month before a decision was reached on a new water treatment plan. However, after a one-sided public hearing Wednesday and easily reached consensus to spend less than $10,000 for a three-week study to get more information on carbon, one member of the Albemarle Board of Supervisors asked if the bodies shouldn’t be more decisive.

“As I listened to the comments from everyone here tonight, I haven’t heard anyone promoting chloramines,” said Supervisor Duane E. Snow. “I personally think I am ready to make the decision tonight … and take chloramines completely off the table.”

Without pausing, Snow made it a motion that was quickly seconded. Ten seconds later one of the four boards had unanimously voted to end consideration of chloramines.

The public hearing audience that had remained until 10 p.m. burst into applause. More than 200 people had packed the Albemarle County Office Building and Supervisor Ann H. Mallek counted 56 speakers, all of whom had been against chloramines.

Next, Charlottesville City Councilor Kathy Galvin made a similar motion, dropping consideration of chloramines and authorizing an interim study of a hybrid granular activated carbon filtration system.

“Given the controversy around chloramines, I would not specify a material like that,” Galvin added reflecting on product choices in her architecture practice. “I do thank the public for bringing a lot of information to us.”

The Charlottesville City Council, the Albemarle County Service Authority and the Rivanna Water & Sewer Authority all followed the Board of Supervisors with unanimous votes ending consideration of chloramines as a secondary disinfectant in the urban water supply.

One of the local activists who raised concerns about potential health impacts from chloramines said she was very pleased by the vote.

“The four boards cooperated, everyone did the right thing, everybody listened,” said city resident and medical researcher Lorrie Delehanty. “I’m just extremely pleased that we’re making the right decision for this community.”

Credit: Andrew Shurtleff, The Daily Progress
RWSA Executive Director Tom

That sentiment was shared by the leader of the water authority.

“I’m very pleased that a decision was made tonight,” said RWSA Executive Director Thomas L. Frederick Jr. “It enables us to move forward with the work that we have to do to make sure that our water is in continuous compliance with EPA rules and regulations.”

“I expressed tonight, at the meeting, that the staff were flexible on whether or not we used GAC or chloramines because we believed, based on the information we gathered, that either one could satisfy those needs,” Frederick added. “What’s most important is that we didn’t put off making a decision.”

The evening was in marked contrast to discussions over the past five years on the contentious community water supply plan and the debate over the earthen dam and dredging. Four key factors seemed to contribute to a more collaborative atmosphere.

    Chloramines was not a city vs. county debate connected to growth; everyone wants safe and clean drinking water.

    The “four boards” were not reversing a past decision of their own; chloramines had been a staff recommendation based, in part, on what was most cost-effective.

    Local officials held an educational symposium, with experts both for and against chloramines, and held a joint public hearing before making a final decision.

    In public, there were fewer personal attacks against the elected officials, water authority staff and consultants.

“I am so proud of our community tonight,” wrote Mallek in an email to Charlottesville Tomorrow. “The persistence and diligence of the citizens, helping elected officials to become informed about the myriad details of the issue, has overturned a year-old decision made without benefit of public discussion.”

During the next month, RWSA consultant Hazen and Sawyer will study whether a cheaper carbon filtration approach may be undertaken. The firm’s original $18.3 million cost estimate for GAC was based on the urban water treatment plants running 365 days a year at their full treatment capacity.

The so called “hybrid option” could involve running portions of treated water through carbon filtration systems, then combining it with regularly treated water for disinfection. Officials said Wednesday they hoped the approach could be done much more economically.

The RWSA board is next scheduled to meet on Aug. 28, by which time it is expected to have more information on the costs of granular activated carbon and the interim steps that will have to be taken to maintain compliance with EPA and Virginia Department of Health standards. Carbon filtration would also involve testing on a pilot basis over the next year.