Official: Algae bloom appears to be culprit in Danville water issues

Danville Utility Commission got an update on the algae bloom causing an unpleasant odor and taste to the city’s treated drinking water, approved the 2016 budget for Danville Utilities and got an in-depth look recommended rate increases over the next four years at its meeting on Monday.

Barry Dunkley, director of water and wastewater for Danville Utilities, said the algae bloom that has appeared in the Dan River appears to be the cause of the foul odor and taste of the drinking water over the past three weeks.

Dunkley said the algae should dissipate over the next week, and the department is working to find ways to detect a reoccurrence in the future. A business water treatment has also been considered to see if that will revert the contaminated water to what it used to be.

The warmer weather during the early part of the winter may be why the algae bloomed out of season.
“They usually happen in still water, like ponds, and in warm water, not cold,” Dunkley said. “Once algae has bloomed, it’s really difficult to get rid of.”

Carbon is being added to the drinking water to improve the taste and smell, and despite those unpleasant attributes, the water has remained safe to drink, Dunkley said.

The source of the algae may never be determined, Dunkley said. Generally, the appearance of phosphorous and nitrogen would indicate runoff from fertilizer – which Dunkley said is unlikely this time of year.

“We’re asking for help from [the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality] to prevent this from happening in the future,” Dunkley said.

Rate consultant Dawn Lund, vice president of Utility Financial Solutions, recommended an increase in wastewater rates and the monthly customer fee this year.

Lund said in order for the wastewater department’s cash balance to return to a “minimum target” amount of about $5 million, a 3.5 percent rate increase should be planned for fiscal year 2016 – which begins July 1.

Raising the monthly customer charge from $13.16 to $14 a month for residential customers was also part of her recommendation. Worship, business and industrial customers would also see increases ranging from $1.86 to $107.43 per month, depending on their classifications.

Lund stressed repeatedly that the goal of the rate study is to set small increases annually to help the utility recover from its current $18 million deficit.

The increases will take three to four years to fully re-balance the funds, particularly in the electric division, where she is recommending 1.5-percent rate increases in 2017, 2018 and 2019, plus increases in the monthly customer charge in 2017 that will bring the monthly residential charge from $7.80 to $9.
Commissioners asked a lot of questions, with Bill Donohue telling Lund he is concerned about how infrastructure is depreciating rapidly and needs replacement. This year, Donohue said, the proposed capital improvements plan calls for $40 million in upgrades over the next five years, which would require a $15 million loan to accomplish.

Donohue asked if the impact of the loan, and the rate of depreciation, were fully covered in the rate study. Lund said she believed it is, but would check it and get back to them at the March meeting.
Other commissioners asked questions ranging from what impact eliminating any increases to the power cost adjustment would have on what the utility could contribute to the city’s general fund to what impact reducing that contribution by 10 percent would have on rates. Lund said she would have answers to those questions next month as well.

The proposed 2016 budget was approved to be moved to Danville City Council for review. Some proposed Danville Power & Light capital improvements projects were moved out of the 2016 budget and will be considered next year, including building a new substation on Gypsum Road and the ongoing project of updating streetlights throughout the city.

Commissioner Bob Schasse also recommended a review of DP&L’s energy efficiency program, which offers rebates to customers to upgrade appliances and lighting to cut energy costs, to see if it truly is saving on energy consumption.


Photo: The Danville Water Treatment facility’s settling tanks are seen Feb. 12.

View original article at: Official: Algae bloom appears to be culprit in Danville water issues


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