Killeen-area residents, from Belton to Copperas Cove, may notice a “bleach” smell in their tap water, officials say, as the main drinking-water supplier in the area began a month-long “deep clean” disinfection process starting Thursday as a possible solution to resolve Killeen’s citywide boil-water order which has persisted since Tuesday evening.
In a news release Thursday afternoon, Bell County Water Improvement and Control District No. 1 General Manager Ricky Garrett said the entity will temporarily convert the disinfectant in its water treatment process from chloramines to ‘free chlorine’ beginning Thursday following the advice of state officials.
The change affects WCID-1 water customers including the cities of Belton, Copperas Cove, Harker Heights, Killeen, Nolanville, 439 Water Supply Corporation, and the Fort Hood Military Reservation.
WCID’s disinfection process change is due to low chlorine levels in Killeen’s water supply, which was detected earlier this week, causing a citywide boil-water notice that went into effect Tuesday evening, and was still in effect as of late Thursday. No other cities, including Fort Hood, have a boil-water order at this time.
The disinfectant conversion, from the combination of ammonia and chlorine to just “free chlorine,” Garrett said, will last until Nov. 22.
“During this period, you may experience taste and odor changes associated with the type of temporary disinfectant conversion,” according to the news release.
After a review of data from area cities, Garrett said the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality “optimization experts” concluded that “nitrification” is likely occurring within parts of the system, particularly in Killeen.
“Nitrification is a biological action that results in depleted disinfection levels if not addressed,” Garrett said. “Bacteria that cause nitrification are not harmful, but the depleted disinfectant residuals leave the system vulnerable for other types of bacteria that could be harmful.”
TCEQ experts advised WCID-1 to begin using only chlorine as the treatment disinfectant rather than the chlorine-ammonia combination currently in place, WCID-1 officials said.
“To facilitate recovery of our entire system, WCID 1 is compelled to take this step,” Garrett said. “Each customer should view this as an opportunity for a ‘deep cleaning.’ By deep cycling the tanks and strategically flushing to move the free chlorine water throughout the system, any biofilm that may be present will be addressed.”
The WCID-1 general manager said he’s experienced this kind of disinfectant conversion before during his time working for the city of Waco’s water department, and that he’s confident the water system will be able to revert back to normal disinfectant processes after the month is over.
“Hopefully, it’ll be years and years before this kind of thing (disinfectant conversion) is necessary again, especially in the way this came up,” he said. “It happened so quickly, no one was able to have much notice.”
It was still not clear on Thursday why Killeen’s chlorine levels were low while the water district’s — and other cities it serves — were not.
Garrett said WCID-1’s chlorine levels are well above the state-required minimum. WCID-1 board president Rob Robinson echoed that statement Thursday morning.
“We provide water that is properly treated — that’s our mission,” Robinson said. “We do that for all customers we serve.”
The distance from WCID-1’s water delivery point to some of Killeen’s water infrastructure may be the reason for the decline in state-mandated chlorine residual, which led to the boil-water notice, Garrett said.
Miles of water pipes also run from the water district’s treatment plant on Belton Lake to Copperas Cove, but Copperas Cove officials add a “chlorine booster” before the drinking water gets to that city, according to Garrett.
“Cove booster chlorinates at what we call Station 6 at Fort Hood Street where they take delivery from us to their system,” he said Thursday. “They’re booster chlorinating at that point because it’s such a long distance. Killeen has miles and miles of more lines and infrastructure than any of the other entities, and that adds complexities.”
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, nitrification, as TCEQ cited to be a factor at WCID-1, is a biological process that converts ammonia to nitrite and nitrite to nitrate.
High levels of nitrate in drinking water, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, can be dangerous to health, especially for the elderly, infants, and pregnant women.
WCID-1’s statement comes after Killeen residents and businesses have been without potable drinking water, due to the citywide boil-water notice, since Tuesday. Read the full boil-water notice here: https://bit.ly/3m2CXG9.
Garrett said the soonest the Killeen boil-water order could be lifted would be 48 hours from the time the chlorine residuals rise above the state-required minimum of 0.2 milligrams per liter for free chlorine.
TCEQ spokesman Gary Rasp confirmed TCEQ’s “TOP,” Texas Optimization Program, staff have been working with the city of Killeen since Tuesday when the boil-water order began.
“We have been looking at data and speaking with the City’s engineer to gather information and provide guidance on conducting a chlorine conversion,” Rasp said Thursday. “TOP staff will be onsite (Friday) morning to continue their evaluation and provide additional assistance.”
Chlorine is added to drinking water to kill potentially harmful bacteria.
All Killeen residents are advised, per TCEQ and city officials, to boil their water prior to consumption (e.g. washing hands/face, brushing teeth, drinking, etc.).
“Children, seniors, and persons with weakened immune systems are particularly vulnerable to harmful bacteria, and all affected customers should follow these directions,” the TCEQ boil-water notice states.
“To ensure destruction of all harmful bacteria and other microbes, water for drinking, cooking and for making ice should be boiled and cooled prior to use for drinking water or human consumption purposes. The water should be brought to a vigorous rolling boil and then boiled for two minutes.”
The city of Killeen posted a Q&A to its YouTube page Thursday evening, featuring Director of Public Works Jeffrey Reynolds and Director of Water/Sewer Steve Kana.
Reynolds and Kana answer questions including:
- -Who is the WCID and the TCEQ and what role do they play in this boil water notice?
- -Why was this boil water notice issued?
- -Why does the City of Killeen see so many boil water notices and what is different about this one?
- -How regularly is the water tested? Have we been consuming “bad” water?
- -What is the city doing to fix the issue and prevent it from happening in the future?
To view the video, go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R3Q2dYih9BE