Apalachicola residents will have a chance to learn a lot more about the chemical byproducts within the water systems, and what the city is doing about it, at a special meeting of the city commission this Tuesday, April 16, at 6 p.m. at the community center at Battery Park.

The meeting is a part of the requirements of a funding package that the city has applied for through USDA Rural Development to finance a $1.7 million carbon filtration system mandated by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to bring the municipal water supply into compliance for levels of Total Trihalomethanes (TTHMs).

Because the city’s water supply comes out of the ground with the potential for E. coli or salmonella microbes that can cause serious illness, the city, like many others in Florida, have long used chlorine to disinfect drinking water, which can produce a negative side effect when chlorine and organic matter react to form TTHMs.

While TTHMs are present at low levels in most chlorinated water supplies, the problem is they can exceed what the Florida Department of Environmental Protection considers a maximum contaminant load of 80 micrograms per liter, and if so, over many years there is an increased risk of certain types of cancer and other health problems.

The city has been in violation of these levels, not unlike the 10 percent of the country’s water systems that have been in violation of federal Safe Drinking Water Act health standards each year since 1982.

Drinking water violations surged in rural areas after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency enacted tighter regulations, and not surprisingly, the problem is more severe in low-income rural areas where communities struggle to maintain aging infrastructure and keep up with the latest water treatment techniques.

To deal with this issue, the city first installed an aerator mixer to release TTHMs in the ground storage tank at the water treatment plant, and followed a series of corrective steps developed with the guidance of the Florida Rural Water Association and the DEP, but these measures were not sufficient to decrease TTHM levels below the maximums.

Granular Activated Carbon (GAC) filtration systems have been demonstrated to be effective for reducing TTHMs in drinking water, and it is this technology that the DEP recommended to solve the problem. The city’s plan drafted by Inovia Consulting Group includes two GAC systems, an electromedia water treatment and automatic filter station, and a 42,000 gallon storage tank.

After the city failed to qualify for private loans to fund the project, in part due to its existing default on sewer loans, Community Redevelopment Director Augusta West worked with city staff and Mary Gavin, technical assistance provider of the Southeast Rural Community Assistance Project, to submit a grant/loan funding application to USDA’s Rural Development area office in Marianna, where it is currently under review.

The special meeting will give the public an opportunity to learn about the drinking water improvement project and to comment on any areas of concern. Staff from Inovia will be present. The public meeting will complete the application process for file review by the state USDA office, where final determination of funding will be made.

Based on the preliminary evaluation, the city could qualify for up to 75 percent grant funding, with the remainder to be funded by a long-term low-interest loan.

City Manager Ron Nalley said the city has made progress in lowering TTHM levels through a water line flushing regimen; however, the DEP directive to install the GAC filter remains in place.

“The cty looks forward to seeing this project through to completion,” said Nalley. “Providing safe and healthy drinking water to the community is one of our top priorities.”

Any questions may be directed to West at 850-274-1321 or awest@cityofapalachicola.com