Story last updated at 4:29 p.m. Thursday, June 20, 2002

Homer water supply looks good in federal tests
Homer News staff
Homer's drinking water passed federal testing last year with flying colors, according to a recently issued report.

That's a far cry from nearly a decade ago when federal regulators found a host of chemicals and compounds in the Homer system that required corrective action.

Since 1993, however, the Environmental Protection Agency has found no significant health threats in Homer's water, and the results of testing in 2000 and 2001 were good enough that Homer isn't required to test again until next year, said city water treatment plant operator Dave Bolt.

"Outside, a lot of places are struggling to meet those contamination levels," he said. "We're not really having too hard a time."

Homer's water comes out of the reservoir on Bridge Creek. Because it is surface water and doesn't issue from deep wells, it's low in minerals, Bolt said. One of the biggest potential problems is turbidity, which comes from soil runoff. However, Homer's turbidity levels were less than 10 percent of the maximum allowed by federal regulations.

Barium and nitrate also showed up in the tests, but well below federal limits.

Though Homer's water is relatively clean and free of harmful compounds, it is naturally acidic, causing lead and copper to leach out of older plumbing pipes and fittings. Elevated levels of those metals in the past forced the city to raise the pH level, reducing its natural acidity and therefore its corrosive power.

In tests in 2000, which were taken at 21 private residences on the city water system, none of the homes had elevated copper levels. Two showed lead levels higher than the federal allowable limit, but because 90 percent of the homes were below the federal maximum of 15 parts per billion, the city is in compliance with federal regulations.

"There's no lead in the water," Bolt said. "It's from people's plumbing." Newer pipes, solders and fixtures are made without lead, he said.

One part per billion is the equivalent of one penny in $10 million, or one minute in 2,000 years.

The volatile organic compound trihalomethane also appeared in the water tests, but at one third the level that requires action.

Because Homer's water has passed the federal tests for three consecutive years, the city can skip the next two years. That's a relief, said Bolt.

"It's a pain," he said, though not because of fears the federal government might shut down the system or force expensive changes. Rather, the tests rely on 21 private homeowners to take water samples at certain times of day. They forget, or put off their sampling for too long, Bolt said. "It's the only thing we sample for that we have no control of."

As Congress tightens water quality standards, however, Homer and other cities may have a harder time winning good grades for their drinking water, Bolt said.

"Congress keeps lowering certain levels," such as arsenic and turbidity. "But the technology isn't really out there to take care of it, so it's a challenge."

In the meantime, the city is on the considering new regulations aimed at controlling development within the Bridge Creek watershed that should provide additional protection for the water that Homer needs every day.