Damakant Jayshi

The Wausau Water Works Commission on Tuesday approved continuing a temporary PFAS removing water filtration technology in the city’s new water treatment plant with the first replacement of anion media likely in the fall.

The timeline of replacing the PFAS-attracting resin in the system, approved unanimously by the five-member commission, could happen before the fall if chemical levels in the drinking water get closer to 20 parts per trillion, a safety threshold set by the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. The water treatment plant that became operational in December last year uses resin with an anion exchange filtering system.

This was based on the recommendation by Donohue & Associates, a consultant hired by the city. According to their estimates, each media change-out would cost the consumer $30.74 a year or $2.56 monthly, if the city gets no state funding. At least three, but likely four, change-outs are possible before the long-term granular activated carbon technology technology becomes operational. The burden on the consumer could come down to $9.22 a year if the city receives 70% of the funding for which it is eligible, but not guaranteed.

The commission voted in June to adopt granular activated carbon technology in the water treatment plant to remove PFAS, also known as “forever chemicals” from water. The GAC technology, cited as a long-term solution for PFAS contamination in the city’s drinking water, will cost about $17 million, according to a revised estimate presented to the commission in October. According to city staff, installation in the new plant would take about two years.

In December, a consulting firm recommended a 65% water rate increase in 2023 to cover the costs of GAC technology, the mounting debt at the city’s utility and operation and maintenance of the plant. The rates have been submitted to the state Public Service Commission which is likely to make the final decision by the end of the next month. The commission has already recommended raising sewer rates by 5%.

Mayor Katie Rosenberg said it would make more sense to have more frequent testing of samples so that they can inform the public if necessary. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources requires municipalities to inform its residents if the hazard level in water goes above the 20 PPT safety standard set by the DHS.

Commissioner Jim Force also said he favors increasing sampling “within limits of what we can do and advocate that we be as prepared as possible to change out resin when and if that time comes.”

As a result, the commission directed the Department of Public Works and Drinking Water Division to conduct monthly water sample testing instead of the existing quarterly schedule, beginning June 1. Results could take at least three weeks, said Drinking Water Division Superintendent Scott Boers.

Commissioner John Robinson wanted to defer a decision on the timeline, saying the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is expected to issue a revised health advisory, which he said would be significantly below the current safety threshold. This might make is necessary to take action sooner than in the fall, he added.

“My concern based upon the volume we are looking at potential breakthrough in June or July versus this fall,” Robinson said. “I think the public has an expectation that we are going to meet these health standards.”

Robinson asked if they should take up the matter with the Finance Committee next month. He also asked whether the GAC installation timeline could be accelerated.

Public Works Director Eric Lindman, who usually pushes for accepting what consultants recommend, said he was skeptical of putting off a decision on anion exchange replacement scheduling.

With the help of the temporary technology in place, Lindman said, the city is “reducing the hazard index down to right around 1 or maybe a little over 1 over a long period of time.” He was referring to the DNR threshold of 1 in the chart shared during the discussion on Tuesday.

Lindman and Water Superintendent Boers said they were seeking the commission’s direction on the resin replacement schedule.

Commissioner Joe Gehin said he would support the staff’s recommendation on the interim anion exchange replacement schedule for fall.