- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 29, 2006

Water treatment officials said the torrential downpours that flooded some parts of the Washington area earlier this week have made their job easier.

“When we get these very high water level events after low water, it lowers the temperature of the water and flushes the algae (plantlike organisms) that has been in the water downstream, making the water a little easier to treat,” said Tom Jacobus, general manager of the Washington Aqueduct, the Baltimore-based plant that treats the water distributed to 1 million residents in the District, Arlington County and Falls Church. “It’s almost a cleansing effect for the water.”

Drinking water in the region is drawn from the Potomac River and treated in a seven-step process that removes dirt, filters the water, then purifies it with chemicals such as chlorine to kill any bacteria and other viruses.

The rushing water tends to heat over time, sometimes reaching near-scorching temperatures, Mr. Jacobus said. For example, the water was at 84 degrees before the storm, and dropped to 71 degrees during the rain.

Drastic changes in temperature help combat algae, which add unwanted tastes and odors to the water that must be eliminated during the treatment process.

“Those major temperature drops tend to allow the algae to disperse and break up the algae colonies, and it’s easier to treat the cooler water than the hot water,” Mr. Jacobus said. “So everything about this storm is almost helpful to us.”

Michele Quander-Collins, a spokeswoman for the D.C. Water and Sewer Authority (WASA), which purchases water from the Washington Aqueduct and distributes it to city residents, said the city’s water supply is as healthy as ever.

The District’s water-distribution system which includes an estimated 1,300 miles of pipes, water mains and pumps “doesn’t mesh” with the city’s 1,800 miles of sewer pipes, which collect drainage from storm basins and toilets.

“The [water supply] pipes are a completely different system than the sewer system,” she said.

She also said she could not recall any storm-related incidents within the water system. Lead was found in 23,000 of WASA’s 130,000 service lines in 2002 and 2003.

The heavy rains toppled trees, swept away cars and triggered mudslides and prompted D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams and Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine to declare states of emergency in their jurisdictions.

Mr. Jacobus said the rains in no way affected his plant’s machinery. He said the Washington Aqueduct is prepared to “easily” handle major mudslides and sewage spills because workers test the Potomac’s water quality every few hours.

The workers simply would increase the amounts of cleaning agents to match the amount of contaminants in the water, he said.

“There’s no hiding that the water in the Potomac is pretty muddy and pretty high right now, but we’re able to treat that water to exactly the right standards,” Mr. Jacobus said. “We are prepared to take water that is not potable and turn it into water that is safe to drink.”

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