Rochelle area in quandray with water situation

With the future concern of complying with Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission (TNRCC) regulations concerning radioactive particles in drinking water, the Board of Directors of the Hickory Underground Water Conservation District and the McCulloch County Commissioners met in a special meeting Thursday night. The Hickory Aquifer has for many years been known to exhibit high gross alpha and gross beta activity. Several municipal and rural water supplies utilizing Hickory ground water frequently exceed the EPA drinking water standards. The distinctive radiochemical signature of Hickory ground water reflects the presence of radium isotopes. Trace quantities of radionuclides in the Hickory Sandstone are sufficient to yield radioactive levels as high as 150 picocuries per liter (pc/l). Based upon reported analyses, the Health Department reports that the Hickory ground waters are one of what appears to be only three places nationwide with radium-228 as the dominant isotope. Governmental regulations passed in recent years have lowered the level of acceptable radionuclides to 5 pc/l of combined radium-226 and radium-228. Samples taken from across the Hickory aquifer have ranged from a low of 1 pc/L to a high of more than 50 pc/L. “The purpose of this meeting is to develop some sort of a plan for areas like Rochelle and Richland Springs,” said Hickory board member Bert Striegler. “According to the records of the Rochelle Water Supply Corporation, the Rochelle water well exceeds the maximum contaminant levels for the radionuclides set by the EPA. We now have received two documents that require immediate answers to solve this problem.” The two documents referred to include one from the Region F Water Planning Group in the form of a survey that lists strategies that are available to bring the water supply into compliance. The problem with these strategies is that none can be implemented either technically or financially. The second document is a request from the TNRCC to supply engineering estimates and costs for the chosen strategy so that the Rochelle Water Supply Corporation can be granted a loan to pay for the implementation of that strategy. “Since there is no reasonable strategy we can choose,” said Striegler, “we cannot respond to this request.’ The letter further states that the water supply corporation must reply by Feb. 4 to be placed on the priority list for a future loan. “Our reply should be one that states that we do not want to be excluded from this process because we do not have the financial resources to bring our system into compliance even if there were reasonable strategies available to us,” said Striegler. In a written statement about the situation, Striegler summarized the situation of the Rochelle community as a whole: ‘ The Region F survey does not include a reasonable strategy that Rochelle could implement to bring its water supply into compliance. ‘ Rochelle has no alternative water supply. ‘ Rochelle does not have the financial or technical resources to respond to the Region F strategies. ‘ Rochelle cannot afford the cost of bringing its water into compliance. ‘ The only reasonable solution might have been point-of-use treatment, which we are told is not permitted as a solution. Point-of-source treatment would have been another possibility, but the Federal Government and the State of Texas have not come up with a way to handle the radioactive waste making this approach unusable. ‘ There is no evidence that use of the water in McCulloch County has ever caused any health problems, nor have we seen any scientific evidence to back up the extremely low MCLs for radionuclides that have been imposed by the EPA. It is not reasonable to spend huge sums of money to correct a “problem” that has not been demonstrated to even exist. In the discussion that followed Striegler’s presentation, it was determined that the best way to combat the situation is to band together as rural communities affected by the EPA standards. As a cohesive unit, it was suggested that the group pursue political efforts through letter writing to appropriate state and national politicians. “We cannot fight this thing from the bottom up,” said Striegler. “We have got to go at this thing from the level on which the EPA does business and that comes directly from political voices in Washington.” A challenge to the small communities that are being faced with compliance of EPA regulations is that according to Stan Reinhard, general manager of the Hickory Underground Water Conservation District No. 1, there are only three areas in the entire United States that are faced with similar situations and all involve areas with numerous small rural communities. As a first step in fighting the political battle, a vote was taken by the members in attendance to form a committee that would compile a fact sheet to be used in determining possible solutions. Members of the committee will represent not only McCulloch but communities throughout the Hickory aquifer region. Those appointed to the committee include: Tom Bourbon, Rochelle; Ken Bull, Richland Springs; Windell Moody, Eden; Tony Matthews, Millersview; Merle Taylor, Brady; David Huie, Lohn; Jason Jacoby, Melvin; Jerry Tedder, McCulloch County and Bill Wootan, Live Oak Hills. Representatives will also be appointed from Menard, Mason and San Saba as well. This committee will work to formulate solutions to the problems that Rochelle and similar communities face and make these recommendations to the Region F planning group. “One thing that has been done,” said Striegler, “is that the Regional planning group is aware of the problem and knows that the situation has not been properly addressed and they have promised to address it in the next go ’round. What they need now, is guidance and that is what this committee will provide.”

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