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Staff ingenuity slashes cost of meeting new arsenic rule by almost $8M
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The concrete slab on Moffat Boulevard at Garfield Avenue south of Manteca High represents yet another cost saving move by municipal engineers trying to comply with an expensive federal arsenic mandate without triggering a water rate increase.

It is where the water from three municipal wells - one behind the Powers Avenue fire station, another near the Carl’s Jr. distribution center in the Manteca Industrial Park and a third near Grant Street - will go for processing through one arsenic treatment plant instead of three separate plants at the various locations. After it is treated it will be funneled into the city’s drinking water system. It will reduce the price tag for the mandated treatment for the three wells by about 50 percent.

When the new federal mandate was first proposed in 2008, the price tag to put in place arsenic treatment plant at the 12 impacted wells was estimated to cost upwards of $22 million. The actual cost may be closer to $14 million thanks to innovative thinking by the city’s engineering staff.

Five of the wells avoided the need for expensive treatment plants that can run between $1.9 million and $3.1 million apiece by a decision to extend pipes where feasible from the main surface water treatment trunk line in north Manteca to well heads. By mixing the high quality surface water with well water it effectively dilutes the arsenic to a point significantly below the new federal mandate.

While the initial cost savings aren’t great, the city racks up big savings by not having to replace the media used in the treatment plants that costs $100,000 per well because they last only about two years that would have been a cost to water users in excess of $500,000 a year.

Deputy Public Works Director Phil Govea noted the city is now working with the Environmental Protection Agency on a “green process” to refurbish the media on site eliminating the need to dispose of it as well as the need to replace it. That process, if implemented, could significantly reduce maintenance costs.

Once the project along Moffat is completed the city will have just three more wells that need to have an arsenic treatment plant attached to them.

Manteca has been able to do the work in the past two years without an increase in water rates. Part of it is due to a drop in construction costs as well as the efforts of the engineering department.

But a decision to scale back enterprise account expenses at the same time the general fund went through expense reductions in order to cover a deficit made the operation leaner and more efficient. The biggest impact is the cost cutting - that wasn’t needed at the time - allowed Manteca to absorb a significant amount of revenue loss due to people not paying as their homes were foreclosed.

The water treatment project will be landscaped after it is completed as a separate project.

Arsenic occurs naturally in water

Arsenic is a semi-metal element that is odorless and tasteless. It enters drinking water supplies from natural deposits in the earth or from agricultural and industrial practices based on a 2009 federal Environmental Protection Act dictate.

Arsenic ingested at sufficient concentrations can result in a variety of non-cancer effects including thickening and discoloration of the skin, stomach pain, vomiting, diarrhea, numbness in the hands and feet, paralysis and blindness. Carcinogenic effects of ingestion or exposure to arsenic at sufficient concentration have been documented to include cancer of the bladder, lungs, skin, kidney, nasal passages, liver, and prostate.

Experts noted that arsenic occurs naturally in all water but at much higher concentrations in well water.