Harvest-Monrovia, Alabama to get new water plant

By STEVE DOYLE
Times Staff Writer
11/29/99

MONROVIA - With rapid development threatening its water supply, the Harvest-Monrovia Water Authority has decided to build a multimillion-dollar treatment plant.

Authority Manager Roger Raby said recent tests have shown "elevated" counts of fecal coliform bacteria in Monrovia's groundwater. The bacteria comes from the wastes of warm-blooded animals.

While the bacteria levels are within the acceptable range and do not pose a health risk to the water system's 22,000 customers, Raby said, the utility wants to go ahead and build the treatment plant as a precaution.

"The water's safe to drink," Raby said. "It's just with the addition of septic tanks, the (untreated) water leaches out into the ground and eventually gets to the water source."

He estimates it will cost $15 million to build a facility that can purify 10 million gallons of raw water each day. The water would pass through large filters to remove some contaminants, then chlorine and other chemicals would be added to kill harmful bacteria.

Currently, the authority adds only chlorine gas and fluoride to the water after it's sucked from the ground.

Raby said the booming housing market in northwest Madison County means hundreds of new septic tank systems are being buried in the soil each year. Those systems collect water from toilets, showers and sinks, then release the water slowly back into the earth.

Problem is, the untreated water can wiggle into cracks in the limestone and pollute the underground lakes that supply the community's drinking water.

That may be what happened at the Cress Well near New Market, which started showing elevated fecal counts about two years ago. Soon after that, the Alabama Department of Environmental Management ordered Madison County to build a water treatment plant for the well.

"It's not just our wells," Raby said. "Wells throughout the county are elevated because of the growth."

Keith Lowery, chief of ADEM's community water systems section, said the bacterial contamination in Monrovia isn't as bad as Cress Well. But it's getting there.

"Really, they haven't been forced into (building a treatment plant)," Lowery said, "but it's just a matter of time before they would be.

"The trend is not looking good for any water supplies as development occurs," he said.

Raby said the water authority's customer base has more than doubled this decade, from 3,348 households in October 1990 to 7,351 today. More than 600 new homes have hooked up to the water system in the past year, he said, and more subdivisions seem to pop up in the community every day.

The authority provides water to a 44-square-mile area in northwest Madison County.

Lowery said North Alabama's aquifers are especially vulnerable to pollution because they are surrounded by limestone, which over time develops fissures and cracks.

Those cracks serve as "conduits" for water from septic tanks, animal wastes, pesticides and spilled gasoline to enter the groundwater, he said.

He said Harvest-Monrovia should probably go ahead and build a treatment plant capable of removing pesticides and fuels from its water, along with bacteria.

Raby said the utility plans to seek a low-interest loan from the State Revolving Fund to build the facility on a still-undetermined site. The loan application is due in Montgomery by Dec. 31.

If it's approved, Raby said, construction would take about 18 months.

"They're taking a good step," said Lowery. "We definitely agree with this. They're going ahead and getting in front of the curve rather than being behind it."