COLUMBUS, GA (WXTX) - In light of the Flint water crisis, News Leader 9 wanted to know the soundness of Columbus' drinking water system.
In order to find out, we visited the Columbus Water Works treatment plant to see firsthand chemical and contaminants are extracted from the water which comes from the Chattahoochee River.
We also sought answers about the procedures the plant uses to ensure that harmful substances like lead are not contained in the city's drinking water.
The first important thing we learned is that technicians treat 35 million gallons of water every day.
"If you think of 40 swimming pools that equates to about one million gallons and in the summer time we get up to 50 million gallons of water a day, said Vic Burchfield, Vice President of Water Quality at CWW.
Burchfield explained the process which starts at River Road plant where Aluminum Sulfate is added to the water to form a sticky gelatin particle which draws sediment to it. Another chemical, called flocculants are then added to the water in a Floc chamber to remove the sediments or particles in the water.
he process is known as reducing turbidity or cloudiness in the water business. Lime is also added to help raise the alkalinity so it's not so acidic.
"The less acidic the water the less corrosive the water is after it gets into the pipes," added Burchfield.
The water is then treated in sedimentation basins that takes 6 hours using filters containing sand to remove any other particles. After the process is complete, sediments are removed at the bottom of the tanks and at the top you see clean water.
Then it's time for the water to go through a complex filtration system including using chlorine, fluoride and chloride to sanitize and remove taste and odor from the water.
"We have to release the water with zero bacteria," said Burchfield. "We cannot have any colonies of bacteria at all when it leaves here. We do that 365 days a year, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week."
To ensure this validity of the process, the water is tested more than 480 times throughout out the treatment process. To make sure the quality is maintained, testing is also done at another plant and at homes
Burchfield told News Leader 9 the city has received compliance ratings from the Environmental Protection Agency for more than 100 years since the plant was built in 1915.
"We want to make sure copper and lead are in compliance range. The EPA and the State of Georgia have specific limits on contaminants that may be possible in the water. Chlorine for example. We maintain 1.5 parts per million in the drinking water. We have to have a certain level to maintain the disinfection," recalled Burchfield.
The EPA allows for a measurement of 15 parts per million on the chlorine which is equivalent to a penny in $10,000. The city of Columbus' latest rating was 2.5 parts per million, according to a CWW report.
"In our case in Columbus, there are no lead service lines, but homes built between 1983 -1988 have copper piping which contains lead solder in the joints. 100 homes were sampled when the lead ban was enacted in Georgia in 1992 and those homes are sampled yearly," added Burchfield. "Out of those samplings, Columbus has consistently met the limit of 15 parts per billion for lead. Now, they sample every three years with a reduced set of 50 homes."
Columbus' lead reading came in at 2.5 parts per billion with 55 cites sampled, according to a CWW report.
The Columbus Water Works Department has also received numerous awards for its outstanding performance in keeping the city's drinking water safe.