Changes aim for improved water quality

Max Erickson - Reservoir Tank.jpg

UAF's water reservoir tank can hold up to 1.5 million gallons and helps deliver water to 4600 people daily. Max Erickson/ Sun Star

Facilities Services is switching to water sourced from and treated by College Utilities Corporation. In addition, an older reservoir tank is being removed from the system, and chlorine use is being reduced. The hope is that these changes will improve water quality on campus.

Originally, water used on campus came from University-owned wells located off Fairbanks Street. These wells were chosen due to the size of the water reserve as opposed to other options. However, the area surrounding these wells has a large amount of permafrost and organic materials, which permeate into the water table, requiring filtration or chemical treatment.

“We looked at what it cost to try and remove the organics from our water, adding more equipment,” Charles “Chilkoot” Ward, director of Facilities Services’ Utilities Division, said. “We looked at a bunch of different ways of doing it and they were all very expensive to the point of building more [structures] to house the equipment.”

There are plans to remove the water reservoir on campus from the distribution system in November of this year, which will shorten the retention time of water holding and help bring down the number of disinfectant byproducts. Once the tank is out of service the water from College Utilities Corporation will be delivered directly to campus.

Campus water quality has broken the regulatory limit in the past, leading to the need for a change. Switching to a private provider was determined to be the less expensive option, Ward said.

Previously, the utilities division treated water from the wells on-campus. When the organic material found in permafrost is mixed with chlorine and retained for 4 or 5 days in a reservoir, it creates disinfectant byproducts, such as haloacetic acids and trihalomethanes. These by are reported via mass email when regulatory limits are surpassed.

UAF Utilities currently adds chlorine and a corrosion inhibitor to the water and will continue to do so after the reservoir tank is taken out of service. The utility division is taking a conservative approach to chlorine additions by slowly tapering off the additive while still using enough to kill harmful bacteria. While disinfectant byproducts have evidence pointing to problems with prolonged exposure, bacterial contaminants would cause more immediate health issues.

There will be revised water quality report after Nov. 10, available upon request for those seeking additional information.

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