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Along with the sobering news of Richmond’s lime sludge problems discussed at Wednesday’s City Council meeting, other questions stemming from those concerns were raised by city officials.
Richmond Finance Director Melanie Allwood told council members Wednesday night that sludge removal could be paid for by emergency funds the city is required to keep, in accordance with water and sewer bond agreements.
Allwood also reported that in 2005 the city’s emergency fund had a $100,000 amount penciled in, but there is no record of where the money went. Allwood said the city’s accounting firm pointed out the discrepancy to her when she began handling the city’s finances in 2006.
No one from the council questioned Allwood’s statement further.
City Wastewater Director C.E. Goodall and Chief Water Operator Bill Kidd told the council that they have been telling council members about the lime sludge problem for at least the last five years. Kidd reported to the council that no sludge had been removed in the past 10 years. City staff included about $30,000 in this year’s budget for sludge removal, but that line was taken out of the budget after the council decided not to raise water rates.
Kidd reported to the city that the sludge issue has reached a point where the city is dangerously close to possibly releasing chlorine into the Crooked River system.
Department of Natural Resources Environmental Specialist Anthony Dohmen said the department does not take discharges lightly, confirming other concerns Goodall and Kidd expressed to the council.
Dohmen said getting a violation should not be an option.
“Once a discharge happens, it’s too late,” Dohmen said. “Right now, before it happens is the time to take some action.”
Dohmen said a discharge into the stream could cause a fish kill or destroy other biologic life forms in the stream. He said it is especially important in smaller water streams.
“If 50 gallons gets dumped into the Missouri River, it’s probably not a big deal from an environmental standpoint,” he said. “If it gets into a small stream somewhere you have connections to ground water it can be a lot more severe.”
Dohmen said other environmental concerns depend on the impurities in a particular system. He said whatever impurities are in the water system before treatment will also show up in lime sludge, which is a by-product of producing potable water. Lime is added to water to soften and remove impurities.
Kidd reported that DNR is also stepping up regulations adding to the problem. Kidd said water testing is being stepped up from once a year to a quarterly basis.
Dohmen said one major factor that goes into whether or not a city is fined and the severity of the fine is the cooperation level.