- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 12, 2014

KETCHIKAN, Alaska (AP) - The city of Ketchikan will address a recurring problem of organic byproducts in its water by adding chloramines to its drinking supply this spring.

Ketchikan will switch to chloramination in March or April over the objection of some residents who claim treated water will kill fish if it leaks into streams, the Ketchikan Daily News reported (http://bit.ly/MLOC8c ).

“I really do believe this is a really poor choice for our town,” said Amanda Mitchell, part of a group called “United Citizens For Better Water,” at a City Council meeting last week.

Ketchikan officials say it’s the best and least expensive way to address a problem of concern to federal and state regulators.

The city for decades has used chlorine to treat drinking water. However, chlorine can form harmful byproducts if it interacts with organic material.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation in the 1990s informed the city of its unacceptable organic byproduct level and ordered action to reduce it. With no immediate compliance, the city has sent out quarterly notices advising the public of an unacceptable level of haloacetic acid in drinking water.

For most people, drinking the water is not dangerous. People receiving dialysis treatment are advised against drinking it.

A decade ago, the City Council considered spending $8 million to $9 million on an ultraviolet chloramination treatment plant or up to $35 million for a filtration plant. The city opted for the proven technology of the cheaper option, Martin said.

Testing of the new plant concluded in November. Before switching, however, the city must flush its existing water supply through city hydrants, and city officials wanted to wait until spring to do so.

About one-fifth of the nation uses drinking water treated with chloramines, but Mitchell and others object.

Chloramine-treated water can cause rashes in people who are allergic, she said. Water main breaks elsewhere have killed fish, she said.

Her group has launched a petition-gathering campaign in opposition to chloramines. If the city moves forward, the group may seek legal action and will work to elect candidates who will reverse the decision, Mitchell said.

David Johnston, a foreman for Ketchikan Public Utilities’ water division, said chloramination poses no greater risk to fish than the chlorination process now being used. The utility has safeguards in place to prevent water line breaks near creeks with fish, he said.

___

Information from: Ketchikan (Alaska) Daily News, http://www.ketchikandailynews.com