Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Protect this region's drinking water


Cincinnati Water Works is appealing a Kentucky permit to place a $75 million sewage treatment plant up-river of Cincinnati's drinking water intakes. Kentucky needs a safer plan.

The discharge pipe for the new sewage plant at Alexandria would empty only 11 miles upsteam from Cincinnati's and Northern Kentucky's drinking water intakes. Cincinnati Water Works officials want the discharge pipe moved at least a quarter mile downstream of the intakes, but Jeff Eger who heads Northern Kentucky Sanitation District No. 1 insists that move would add more than $40 million to construction costs.

Kentucky's environmental protection cabinet will hear Cincinnati's appeal on July 13. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has final say. Wastewater managers in the past have had to meet only Clean Water Act standards, while water works officials must meet more stringent Safe Drinking Water Act rules. The two sets of officials rarely talk with each other.

The EPA should not let a new sewage discharge pipe jeopardize drinking water for 1.8 million people. This case could be precedent-setting. Once that up-stream sewage pipe is in place, it could be tougher to deny permits if Clermont County or other up-stream jurisdictions want to release treated sewage into the river above Cincinnati intakes.

The Alexandria plant plan would start discharging 4 million gallons a day, but its design allows for up to 21 million gallons a day. That area is ripe for more development in coming years. Scientists fear a nasty human parasite called Cryptosporidium hominis from wastewater plants. It is blamed for a 1993 outbreak in Milwaukee's drinking water that sickened more than 400,000. An estimated 54 died. To kill such pathogens, researchers say it would take more than four times the ultraviolet disinfectant planned for the Alexandria plant. Moving the pipe still may be the best solution. This case should spur EPA to reconcile water treatment laws to make sure new sewage plants do not put drinking water at greater risk.

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