A study aimed at identifying the source for discolored water experienced by a large swath of Port St. Joe water customers will be longer, broader and more complex than originally expected.

A study aimed at identifying the source for discolored water experienced by a large swath of Port St. Joe water customers will be longer, broader and more complex than originally expected.

David Kozan with CDM Smith, the company that designed the $21 million surface water treatment plant that went online some three years ago and has been plagued with issues of water quality since, said initial sampling had shown a wider range of potential problem sources and potential solutions.

     What was initially expected to be a study completed in the fall is now 8-12 weeks away from the intensive pilot testing, Kozan said. Two months ago, the hope was that intensive testing would not be needed.

For city commissioners, it was not the news they had hoped for while awaiting a report on the initial testing undertaken by researchers at Virginia Tech University.

Kozan said he would not have the report completed for another two weeks.

Commissioners, city staff and city engineers Preble Rish have variously expressed frustration with the flow of information from CDM Smith.

“We are moving slower than we thought,” Kozan said. “The testing data was more complex. The pilot testing will be more extensive than we originally thought.

“We cast a broad net and we caught more than we thought we would. We don’t want to do it and not do it right.”

The initial testing involved taking existing small sections of pipe from 10-12 locations from water plant to households/businesses.

The hope was that the testing would show the primary culprit to be corroded iron breaking away from aging pipes – some dating to the Great Depression – due to the caustic nature of the surface water and the new treatment protocol required.

That would have likely required little more than a tweaking of the chemical treatment protocol to address.

However, Kozan said the initial testing showed a more varied array of issues.

“We found there are multiple sources of iron and also sources for manganese,” Kozan said, noting both iron and manganese could be causing the discoloration and would also account for the various hues and intensity of the discoloration experienced throughout the distribution system.

“The discoloration could be performed by a variety of factors. We have so much variation in the data.”

Kozan said the manganese is not coming from water entering the plant. Whether the source is rainfall or from the distribution system – the city is nearing phase two of a three-phased project to replace some 20 miles of aged pipe – or another source is unknown.

“We were a little surprised to see as much manganese,” Kozan said. “(Identifying the source) is a very complicated problem to solve.”

City manager Jim Anderson said manganese had also been a significant problem with city officials in Dalton, GA, the site of a water plant and microfiltration that in the entire country most closely mirrors the Port St. Joe plant and system.

Kozan said he was unaware of that and asked Anderson for additional information.

Kozan said the study was also somewhat hamstrung by the lack of historical data.

The plans for the pilot study have now changed, Kozan added. The company will now likely harvest just one existing pipe section to send to Virginia Tech. Beyond that, the university will use “metal blanks” or unused pipe as comparison for a variety of chemical tests.

Kozan said he was looking to take a section of two-inch galvanized iron pipe from the area of Avenue A-Avenue B.

Publics Works director John Grantland wondered about that selection. He noted that that area’s pipe would soon be replaced as the final component of the first phase of pipe replacement and wondered why a section of newer PVC pipe would not be used as PVC was replacing the old iron pipe throughout the city.

“We suspect a fair amount of water (problems) in (PVC) areas is manganese from the plant or a disturbance in the system,” Kozan said, such as a fire hydrant open.

The pipe from Avenue A or B would be representative of the system, Kozan added.

“We need to look at taking care of the manganese and look at taking care of iron breaking off and potential future sources,” Kozan said. “This is a multi-pronged effort.”

Commissioner Rex Buzzett said he was not trying to be confrontational but wondered about the end game.

A pilot study that appeared headed in one direction and with an estimated window of completion was taking on the look of a much longer process with the potential fixes more complex and potentially more costly.

“There has to be an end point,” Buzzett said.

Kozan said CDM Smith would have to change the scope of the work “completely.”

Broadband lease

The city approved a lease agreement with a company that will mean more broadband capabilities in the county.

The move is specifically aimed at the Port of Port St. Joe, said Jim Brook of the Florida Rural Broadband Alliance, LLC.

The port has a potential customer which has interest in broadband capabilities.

“Companies looking to relocate here are going to look at broadband capacity,” said Mayor Mel Magidson. “If we don’t have that, they will look elsewhere.”

The Broadband Alliance is not a retailer of broadband service – it provides a “larger pipe”, Brook said, for broadband capacity and provides the services free to schools and libraries who wish to connect.

The lease would allow the Alliance to erect towers on the Shark Tank water tower and Highland View water tower. The estimated value would be applied to the local match of a federal grant to increase broadband access to rural communities.

The city could begin realizing revenue from the lease in four or five years, Brook said.

There is no cost to the city.