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KDHE, city to hook up west Wichita homes to municipal water supply

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Sunday, May 4, 2014, at 2:32 p.m.
  • Updated Tuesday, May 6, 2014, at 2:01 p.m.

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City water is on its way to a handful of homes in west Wichita affected by a plume of dry cleaning chemicals contaminating groundwater.

Both city officials and the Kansas Department of Health and Environment say they hope to get service to the rest of private well users in the area as soon as possible. But the project completion date remains fluid.

Ten homes close to an existing water main have already been given immediate access to Wichita’s municipal water supply, Alan King, the city of Wichita’s director of public works and utilities, said last week.

KDHE, he said, also has waterline installation so far on four streets — Robin Road, Evergreen Lane and parts of Rolling Hills Drive and Socora Street — in an effort to route clean water to about 114 homes in the area where wells have shown above allowable limits of dry cleaning solvent tetrachloroethylene in lab tests.

“The city has gone out and tapped the water line and brought a meter and set the meter up on the property,” King said of the 10 homes close to the existing water main. “So the water is actually at the property now.

“We’ll work out the details with KDHE on paying for the fees associated with that,” he said. “First thing’s first: Getting water service to the folks as quickly and expeditiously as possible.”

What KDHE is calling its “area of concern” — which stretches south and southeast of the former Four Seasons Dry Cleaners near Central and Tyler — is prompting plans to quickly install the water mains. A total of 186 private water wells are in the area. The former dry cleaners site, which closed a few years ago, has been identified as the source of the groundwater contamination.

As of Friday, more than 50 wells in the plume have been found to contain tetrachloroethylene concentrations above the Environmental Protection Agency’s maximum contaminant level of 5 micrograms per liter for drinking water, according to KDHE. Testing is ongoing.

Tetrachloroethylene is described by the EPA as a colorless organic liquid with a mild, chloroform-like odor that is likely carcinogenic to humans. KDHE first detected the chemical in a monitoring well at 7920 W. Kellogg in 2009, an agency official told residents at an informational meeting last month.

But it wasn’t until late March — more than four years later — that KDHE named the dry cleaner as the source of the contamination and started sampling private wells in the surrounding area.

The city on Friday estimated between 10,000 and 12,000 feet of pipe would be laid to accommodate KDHE’s requests for new water mains.

King, the public works and utilities director, said because a public exigency order was approved, the city will forgo the typical bidding procedures and instead opt for a more “streamlined process” where officials meet with six contractors to get proposals to design and build the project.

An item concerning installation of the water mains is expected to appear on the Wichita City Council’s agenda this week, he said.

“We’re hoping to have this done by the end of August, actually,” King said. “In, built, water service available.”

He would not talk about projected costs.

But KDHE spokesman Ashton Rucker said agency officials expect the price tag “to be somewhere in the neighborhood of $1 million.”

KDHE plans to offer all homes in the area of concern that rely on domestic well water a chance to hook up to the municipal supply, Rucker said.

The cost, he said, will be paid by KDHE using a trust fund kept specifically for covering costs associated with contamination at dry cleaning sites.

Funding sources for the Dry Cleaning Remediation Program include a 2.5 percent environmental surcharge tacked onto dry cleaning customers’ bills and fees for solvent purchases and annual facility registration.

But the offer to pay to hook up to city water is only good once, Rucker said. Residents who refuse face paying the full cost to install municipal water if they change their minds later on.

KDHE also will immediately terminate delivery of bottled water to those who opt out of the city’s supply.

“We‘re not going to force anyone to hook up to city water that doesn’t want to,” Rucker said. “But we just want to make sure that they understand that it’s an offer at the time.”

A form authorizing KDHE to connect an address to the city water system can be found on www.kdheks.gov/dryclean/four_seasons.html. Rucker said several residents have or will receive the form by mail. KDHE will contact residents who accept the city water to arrange the hookup.

It was unclear Friday how long residents have to decide whether they want municipal water.

“We just ask that when people have their (hook up authorization) form that they consider it carefully” before making a decision, Rucker said.

More information about the Four Seasons site contamination and the chemicals causing it is available at www.kdheks.gov/dryclean/four_seasons.html. A map of KDHE’s area of concern that includes testing results from the water wells is also posted on the site.

“Our No. 1 concern right now is that everyone has healthy water to drink,” Rucker said.

“So we’ll be continuing to update the map as (well testing) results come back,” working with the city to install water mains in areas that have none and “getting people hooked up to city water.”

Related link: Map of affected area, with testing results from water wells (PDF)

Reach Amy Renee Leiker at 316-268-6644 or aleiker@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @amyreneeleiker.

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