Arsenic levels pose a costly threat to the city of Portola

  The floodgates of the Portola water crisis have been opened, and now the city faces another struggle to stay above water.

  According to the State Water Resources Control Board, Commercial Street and Willow Creek wells have reached the maximum contamination level for arsenic. The city’s main water supply has been rendered virtually useless to the city.

  “We’re in a crisis mode,” said city manager Ian Kaiser. “Right now we don’t have any time.”

  At the July 24 City Council meeting Kaiser presented a dilemma the council did not expect to hear. Instead of an amendment to the budget to adopt a resolution not to include a water rate increase or a new utility billing policy, Kaiser said the city was now facing a water emergency.

  According to Kaiser, the city is required to check arsenic levels in the water every quarter. During the past week they were scheduled to do so, and after talking to the state water board, the city discovered the water was in danger of being considered contaminated.

  “We had a perfect storm going,” said Kaiser. “The possible arsenic levels are at the threshold (of being contaminated).”

  Kaiser said it was his intention to cut the potential rate increase to the residents of Portola by taking out the variable of the broken Lake Davis water treatment plant.

  Previously, Kaiser stated the Lake Davis treatment plant dominates 40 percent of the city’s water rates and is one of the main contributors to the impending rise of water rates. He suggested that because the treatment plant wasn’t functioning there was no reason to charge residents for its upkeep. He was planning to eliminate those charges to help halt the rate incline.

  However, after discovering the well water had reached its allotted capacity for arsenic, the state mandated the city of Portola to repair the treatment plant.

  An hour before the meeting, Kaiser sent city Public Works Superintendent Todd Roberts up to Lake Davis to fix what could be a computer problem at the treatment plant.

  “Our staff has been working very diligently to try and figure out what is wrong,” said Kaiser.

  According to city engineer Dan Bastian, the maximum level of arsenic permitted in a water source is 10 parts per billion. It is measured by averaging the yearly quarters together. In its last reading, arsenic levels in Portola’s water were at 10.25 parts per billion. He said because the state rounds the number down, the wells are not considered contaminated yet, but there are still two quarters that haven’t been read and averaged.

  Kaiser said he begged the state board for a variance, but the board was adamant that the city should have another water source.

  He said he had the intention of preventing any rate increase to the residents, but the arsenic problem was something he could not have expected.

  He told the council there was no action to take in terms of the budget amendment agenda item. He said he would be unable to stop a rise in rates as of now.

  “Even though the rate study is not in line with realities, there are some realities we have to face right now,” said Kaiser.


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