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ADEQ impressed after water inspection

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A brief visit that turned into a surprise inspection by Arizona Department of Environmental Quality officials won Cottonwood high praise for its work to remove arsenic from city water supplies.

Roger Biggs, utilities administration manager for the city of Cottonwood Utilities Department, explains Thursday, Sept. 23, how newly installed filters decrease arsenic in the municipal water supply.ADEQ officials dropped in Sept. 13 to check on progress at one well, but then announced they would stay to inspect the entire waterworks for compliance with Environmental Protection Agency rules, Public Services General Manager Dan Lueder said.

ADEQ administers EPA laws in Arizona.

The complete inspection Sept. 14 showed Cottonwood on schedule to finish all improvements ordered by the EPA in 2009, when the agency declared the city’s water supply was contaminated with arsenic above federal limits.

Where federal law requires water to contain arsenic at a rate less than 10 parts per billion, city water then averaged 35 parts per billion, Lueder said.

Now, with the exception of one well, city water contains only trace amounts of arsenic.

“The EPA thought it was very impressive,” said Debbie Breitkreutz, Cottonwood wastewater superintendent. “We’ve only been in the water business for six years. For us to take on 28 wells and actually get remediation working and everything going in one year was quite a feat for a city as small as we are.”

The last well, which supplies water to Verde Village 6, is on track for arsenic remediation technology to be installed before the 2012 deadline imposed by the EPA, Breitkreutz said.

Water in Verde Village 6 is tainted with arsenic at a rate of just under 10 parts per billion on average, which meets the current standard, but is high enough to warrant remediation, she said.

Since 2008, Cottonwood spent $2.3 million to upgrade its 28 active wells, all of which are now managed by the city’s own arsenic removal expert. A recent addition to city staff, the expert sees to it arsenic remediation equipment is operating properly.

Cottonwood’s arsenic expert also “reactivates the media,” which involves cleaning arsenic from ion collectors used to remove the naturally occurring poison from city water and then transporting it to the city’s wastewater treatment plant.

The arsenic arrives from the ion collectors in a brine solution, which is then further diluted with wastewater, Breitkreutz said.