Putnam Water bills go up July 1

Putnam Community Water customers will see a jump in their bills starting July 1, as the member-owned water system undertakes a major project to address the presence of nitrates in its drinking water.

“It’s quite a jump for a lot of people,” said Jay Huck, manager/operator of Putnam Community Water. “We felt we had to have that kind of income to maintain our cash flow, to make sure the plant stays viable for years to come.”

Putnam broke ground on a $2.6 million reverse osmosis water treatment plant in April. That was how the system chose to address an Ohio Environmental Protection Agency mandate to remedy the presence of nitrates above the standard of 10 milligrams per liter set by the U.S. EPA.

“We’re looking for it to be completed by the end of the year,” Huck said.

Nitrates have been linked to illness or possible death when ingested by infants less than 6 months old, according to the Ohio EPA. That agency determined that a significant source of the nitrates was the unsewered area of Devola, where septic tanks are used by residents.

To pay for the new facility, the association has changed its billing cycle from quarterly to bi-monthly and the minimum charge from $45 for three months to $70 for two. Usage for the minimum billing will go from 12,000 gallons over three months to 4,000 over two. The charge above the minimum will remain at $1.60 per 100 cubic feet, or 750 gallons.

According to a letter sent to members by Putnam Community Water, a customer using an average of 4,000 gallons of water a month would now pay $78.53 every two months instead of $45 a quarter. A customer using 6,000 gallons a month would be charged $87.07 every other month, compared to $57.80 every three.

Although there are advantages to the new system, including softer water, the rates will be a hardship to some people, said Ron Feathers, a Washington County commissioner and Putnam water customer.

“I’m going to feel the pinch” too, he said.

But Devola resident Flo Beidler said she welcomes the change and doesn’t mind paying extra.

“I have been waiting 39 years for the water out here to improve,” she said.

Beidler said when she factors in the cost of salt for her water softener and bottled water, neither of which she’ll need to buy once the new system is online, the hike doesn’t seem too bad.

“When I figure all that out, what I’m spending, these rates aren’t going to be that much higher,” she said.

And this isn’t the only cost increase headed for Devola water customers.

Washington County commissioners in 2010 agreed to a settlement with the Ohio EPA to address the nitrate contamination issue, which resulted in a plan to sewer the unsewered portion of Devola. The first phase, completed last year, repaired existing sewer lines, tied them in with the City of Marietta’s wastewater treatment plant and linked about 350 customers to the system.

The next phase would add more than 400 customers but some residents, including Feathers, object to it, in part because of the accompanying increases in property taxes and expenses to seal off septic tanks, estimated to total more than $10,000 for the average resident.

Feathers, elected to the commission last year, was scheduled to meet with Ohio EPA Director Scott Nally this week to discuss the issue, but that session was rescheduled for July 8.

Among the questions Feathers and others have is why the additional sewer hookups are needed if the reverse osmosis plant is removing nitrates from the water.

“The nitrates problem in the drinking water is being taken care of,” he said.

Erin Strouse, media relations coordinator for the Ohio EPA, said in an email that “the unsewered area of Devola is still contributing significantly to the nitrate concentrations at the Putnam Community wells, and this requires action to address.”

Beidler, who was tied into the sewer system years before the new project, said she wants the treatment plant and the sewering to move forward to improve the area’s water quality.

“The sewers have to be a reality,” she said.