Guttenberg's water quality report explained

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Operators Dan Pierce and Dan Walke maintain the quality of Guttenberg's drinking water as it passes through 20 miles of water mains servicing over 1,000 connections throughout the city. An average of 120,000-160,000 gallons of water are used daily. (Press photo by Molly Moser)

By Molly Moser

The Guttenberg Press published the City of Guttenberg’s water quality report in its April 25 issue. The Press sat down with public works employee Dan Pierce to delve into this complex report, revealing how the data is gathered and what it means to residents. 

1. What qualifications do the public works staff have in order to test and maintain our water? What is required as far as completing and maintaining those qualifications/certifications?

Qualifications to operate a public water supply are determined by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) based on the size of the water treatment facility, water distribution system and various other factors including source water and treatment required. Levels of operations range from a Grade A up to a Grade 4 facility. The City of Guttenberg is a Grade 2 public water supply for its treatment facility and distribution system, so at least one qualified operator must maintain a Grade 2 operator status at all times. The City currently has two operators, Dan Walke and Dan Pierce, with Grade 2 status for both water treatment and water distribution. Denny Roth is a certified Grade 1 operator.

Each grade level requires field experience/education and passing an exam (each test has 100 questions.) Grade 1 operators are required to have 12 months of field experience or 6 months of field experience plus education requirements before they are even allowed to take the test. Grade 2 operators are required to have 3 years of field experience or 18 months of field experience plus education requirements before testing. The water treatment and water distribution divisions are exclusive to each other, so an exam is required for each grade level in each division. Continuing education units are required to maintain current certification. Every two years a minimum of ten contact hours of continuing education must be completed by operators maintaining a Grade 2 certificate.

2. Can you describe the water testing process? How often is it done? 

The IDNR issues an operating permit that sets the regulations for each system’s testing parameters and frequency. An inspection is performed every three years by the IDNR. The City of Guttenberg is required to test its water in the treatment plant and in the distribution system every day (365 days/year) to ensure the water meets national water quality guidelines. Other tests are performed from twice a week up to only once every nine years depending on what is required by the IDNR. Some of the tests are done on site by the certified operators while others are sent offsite to a certified lab.

3. On the water quality report, which of the chemicals are added to the water on purpose? Why are they added, and how is the amount determined? 

In the United States, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is responsible for setting drinking water standards and for ensuring their enforcement. This agency sets federal regulations that all state and local agencies must enforce. The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) and its amendments contain specific maximum allowable levels of substances known to be hazardous to human health.

The City of Guttenberg adds three chemicals to our source water to maintain proper water quality as required by the IDNR. Sodium Hypochlorite (commonly known as liquid chlorine) is added to maintain a disinfectant residual in the system to guard against pathogenic organisms (things that can make people sick). Lack of chlorine residual is an indicator, or alarm, to inform operators if pathogens could be present. Fluorosilicic Acid (Fluoride) is added by recommendation from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Iowa Department of Public Health and major medical and dental organizations to prevent tooth decay. An orthophosphate solution is added to keep naturally occurring minerals such as iron and manganese from causing red/black staining in the water.

The water quality report shows the acceptable ranges for each of these chemicals. Based on our source water, the amount of chemical added is determined to fall within the ranges set by the EPA and IDNR. Chlorine range is to be between 0.3 – 4.0 mg/L (milligrams per liter) with our average amount near 1.0mg/L. The CDC stated optimal fluoride level is 0.7mg/L. The City’s raw source water contains natural fluoride in the range from 0.2 - 0.5mg/L, so a very small amount is added to reach the best level for dental health. The orthophosphate detected in our finished water is 0.1mg/L, a very small amount.

The term mg/L is the same as ppm (parts per million), which may be an easier term to understand. For example, in every one million drops of water, one drop of any chemical present in the water would be one part per million, or 1.0 ppm, or 1mg/L.

4. Are there any particular challenges with our unique water source or system? 

The City of Guttenberg gets its water from the Jordan Aquifer, a groundwater source that stretches from Southwest Iowa to Northeast Iowa that is used by hundreds of wells across the state. Compared to Southwest Iowa where the water level can be a few thousand feet deep, the aquifer in Northeast Iowa is relatively shallow with our wells reaching 400 feet in the downtown area and 700 feet by the water tower to tap into the aquifer. The Jordan Aquifer in Northeast Iowa is considered highly susceptible due to the fractured rock formations present that could allow for the potential infiltration of surface water during heavy rain events, which is an additional reason for the disinfection process.

5. Where are the wells, and from well to faucet, what is done and where does our water go? 

The City of Guttenberg has three active wells (#2, #3, #4) and one inactive/plugged well (#1). Two wells are located along the bluff at the west end of Schiller Street (#2) behind the water treatment plant and at the west end of Herder Street (#4), one block to the north of the water treatment plant. Water from both of these wells passes through the treatment plant and into the distribution system. 

Treated water that is pumped by well #2 and well #4 (our primary wells) into the distribution system moves into the downtown area with the excess moving to the in-ground storage reservoir located on Acre Street. As water is used in the upper level (Acre Street area, North Highway 52 subdivisions, industrial park) out of the water tower, a booster pump moves water from the in-ground reservoir through the upper level distribution system into the water tower. 

One well is located at the water tower site (#3). This well is a backup well used primarily for emergencies only. This well is operated daily to ensure proper working condition. The only treatment of Well #3 is chlorine before being pumped into the distribution system. 

The raw (untreated) source water entering the water treatment plant from Well #2 and Well #4 passes through ion exchange softening filters to remove minerals in the raw water, then orthophosphate, chlorine and fluoride are added before passing into the distribution system. The hardness of the raw water that enters the treatment plant is approximately 17 grains per gallon (GPG) and is softened to 4 GPG before it is sent to the distribution system.

The distribution system consists of around 20 miles of 4”, 6”, 8”, 10” and 12” water mains, about 135 fire hydrants, hundreds of main and service valves, a 130,000 gallon reservoir, 150,000 gallon water tower, a booster station, and a pressure reducing valve station. Over 1,000 connections are made throughout the distribution system to residential, commercial and industrial consumers, where an average of 120,000-160,000 gallons of water are used every day.

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