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Annexation to Santa Rosa would relieve arsenic concerns

For three years, ever since she learned her water was contaminated with arsenic, Arlene Clark has been buying bottled water by the case from the supermarket.

The 71-year-old retired cashier can't lift heavy loads anymore, so whenever possible she gets her son to help haul it into her mobile home at Sequoia Gardens on the western edge of Santa Rosa.

But that burden may soon be lifted if the 191-unit mobile home park on Fulton Road is annexed into the City of Santa Rosa and hooked up to clean city water.

"I'll just be happy to go to my faucet and not have to open a bottle of water," Clark said.

The City Council last week signed off on the annexation by approving future zoning for property, the last step before a final decision on annexation is made by Sonoma Local Agency Formation Commission.

The move is the latest in a five-year-long effort to extend city water to more than 600 mostly low-income residents on four properties just outside city limits whose drinking water no longer complies with cleaner state standards passed in 2008.

For decades, the state and federal limit, known as the maximum contaminant level, for arsenic in drinking water was 50 parts per billion. Then in 2001, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency tightened the regulations by dropping the standard to 10 parts per billion, citing studies linking long-term exposure to arsenic in drinking water to cancer and other diseases.

The EPA estimated that the new rule would affect mostly smaller water systems serving 11 million people across the country.

The state Department of Health followed EPA's lead and in 2008 adopted the lower standard for arsenic, a naturally occurring element. It considered an even lower standard but concluded that the costs of compliance would be too high.

The state estimated the 10 parts per billion standard would affect 267 water systems around the state and cost $187million per year in treatment and other compliance costs.


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