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EPA, Hillsboro studying climate change in water

Staff writer

The Environmental Protection Agency has begun working with the city of Hillsboro to study the effects of climate change on local drinking water, with the intention of developing a strategy for better protecting water resources in the future.

Hillsboro is the only city in Kansas included in the 20-city nationwide pilot program. The EPA is providing technical training to help the city’s water utility become more resilient to climate change, including droughts, storms, and flooding.

Studying the impacts of changing weather patterns will help the city’s water department respond to environmental situations in the future, said City Administrator Larry Paine.

“We’ve got drought,” Paine said. “Drought changes how we operate as a utility. When you get heavy rain, the water going into the reservoir changes the chemistry of the reservoir and that has an effect on how we treat the water we draw from the reservoir.”

Bob Dunlevy, an EPA environmental engineer, told city council members Tuesday he has been training Morgan Marler, the city’s senior water treatment technician. Marler is entering data into the EPA software that helps plan for the future with adaptation options.

“The idea is we focus on one or two issues; blue-green algae is the main one and then the zebra mussels,” Dunlevy said.

Mayor Delores Dalke joked that she was hoping Dunlevy would eliminate the toxic blue-green algae altogether, which occasionally blooms in the reservoir and triggers health warnings. However, Dunlevy said water temperature and nutrients can stimulate algae growth — and it’s best to study it in order to prepare for the future.

“I was just hoping it was going to go away and we wouldn’t have to think of it anymore,” Dalke quipped.

“What we did was go through different scenarios and developed a draft, an idea of how to proceed for the future, with the realization that some of these things are occurring now but they may get worse in the future — and maybe planning for that and developing your waste water system to handle those issues,” Dunlevy said.

For example, conservation methods could help with less frequent rainfalls.

Council member Bob Watson said the city had to wrestle with numerous zebra mussels in past years but not so much in 2014.

The zebra mussels reproduce in cycles, with a die-off followed by subsequent large numbers and then another die off, Morgan said.

“I think that cycle kind of perpetuates itself,” Morgan said.

In September, EPA headquarters asked its district offices to nominate drinking water, storm water and wastewater utilities to participate in the Climate Resilience Evaluation and Awareness Tool program. The district offices sent the information to the state governments, which then nominated various cities to be considered, including Hillsboro, Dunlevy said.

“I’m glad we were chosen because it will help us down the road,” Dalke said.

The EPA will work with Hillsboro officials through July, Dunlevy said.

In other business:

The council passed a resolution declaring the abandoned Prime Time gas station an unsafe structure and ordered the owner to begin repair or demolition work within 30 days.

The council also condemned three properties: 108 S. Cedar St., 310 N. Washington St., and 206 West B St. The owners must perform the necessary work to bring their properties up to code or the city will proceed with the work and place a lien on the property’s tax bill.

Last modified Feb. 4, 2015

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