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Report: Water is smelly, drinkable

Aloha Utilities claims vindication, but the report also lays out possible solutions for odor and color problems.

By MELIA BOWIE
Published February 11, 2004

NEW PORT RICHEY - The water coming from the taps of some Aloha Utilities customers in Pasco County might be discolored and smelly, but it meets federal and state standards. There is room for improvement, though.

That was the conclusion this week from an independent auditor and engineer who was hired to study the issue last year.

The finding is "one of several watershed moments" in a long-standing dispute between the New Port Richey-based utility and its customers, said Steve Burgess, deputy public counsel with Florida's Office of Public Counsel.

The office hired Audrey Levine, an associate professor at the University of South Florida's Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. Levine studied Aloha's water and issued a two-phased report. The first part, released in August, examined water quality using data provided by Aloha.

The second phase, released this week, relied on her independent research and sought possible solutions for the problem.

Public Service Commission staff members now are recommending a public hearing on the report. The possibility will be discussed Feb. 17 at a PSC meeting.

In the meantime, Aloha officials say the report vindicates what they have said all along.

"From our perspective it gives some comfort to the customers, I hope," Aloha attorney F. Marshall Deterding said Tuesday. "We provide quality water."

Aloha serves thousands of residents in Seven Springs, Trinity and elsewhere in southwest Pasco. For years there have been complaints of discolored, smelly water from the utility. Some customers wanted them to fix it; others wanted to shop for a new utility provider.

Levels of hydrogen sulfide in Aloha's water have been the crux of the problem, corroding pipes, discoloring water and producing a rotten-egg smell.

Among Levine's proposed fixes: a chemical treatment system to reduce the pH and transfer the hydrogen sulfide from the water to the air, a process called packed tower aeration.

Also suggested, hydrogen peroxide or ozone (called alternative oxidants) could be used to improve conversions of hydrogen sulfide and improve water taste, among other benefits. Last, membrane technologies could remove sulfur and improve water quality.

Representatives for Aloha say all but the second option are extremely expensive, estimating they could cost several million dollars - money that customers would pay in higher rates.

Nevertheless, Aloha is eager to sit down with Levine, and "we'll do whatever the commission decides," Deterding said.

- Melia Bowie can be reached in west Pasco at 869-6229, or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6229. Her e-mail address is bowie@sptimes.com

[Last modified February 11, 2004, 01:32:01]


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