Citizens of Monroe City,
The City has been battling some water issues over the past several months that we, and you, aren’t very happy about. I wish there was an easy answer, such as, someone just forgot to turn on a particular switch, but that isn’t the case.
Making potable water is mostly science and a little bit art. It takes an ‘A’ licensed water plant operator to run the water plant in Monroe City. Since our previous operator retired at the end of 2015 we have been actively recruiting to hire a new one. Getting an ‘A’ license takes many years and an in depth knowledge of chemistry, biology and the mechanical workings of the water plant. ‘A’ operators are few and far between. While we were searching for a permanent replacement, we had our regular, long-term water plant staff running the plant, along with an ‘A’ licensed consultant to assist them.
The issues that occurred a few months ago with the boil order are only partially related to the manganese discoloration issues we are currently experiencing. Because our water comes from Rt. J Lake, it’s biological content varies greatly throughout the year. When the raw water enters the treatment plant we begin adding chemicals to it to remove bacteria, remove odors and remove discoloration. We take samples multiple times throughout this process and make sure that it meets potable water standards before we send it to town for consumption.
Our water plant is regulated and regularly inspected by the MO Dept. of Natural Resources. When our finished water is outside the standards, we call DNR and let them know. They will offer advice on how to get it into compliance and/or they may say that we need to issue a boil order.
I’ve toured the water plant dozens of times. It has hundreds of pumps, valves, filters, aerators, knobs, switches and pipes; and I can’t tell you what any of them do, but I know that it’s a complex operation. It is inspected regularly by DNR and it has always passed inspection. So, when we issued a boil order several months ago and DNR came and visited our plant, they pointed out multiple pumps, fans and other pieces of equipment that weren’t functioning correctly or were completely broken. We had to order in replacement parts and equipment, have them installed, backwash the system and then start over making new water. During the entire time that we were making repairs, we still had to pump water to town. Once we were making ‘good’ water, we then had to flush the ‘bad’ water from the system. This entire process is what lead to a 24 day boil order and I hope that for the citizens of Monroe City (and my sanity) that we never have to go through that again!
Our new, permanent water plant operator began in late June. Jon Rogers has more than 20 years of experience and if everything goes well, he will retire from this position many years in the future. Jon has spent his first three weeks on the job trying to take care of manganese levels. Manganese occurs naturally at Rt. J Lake and we add a chemical that binds to it so it can be filtered out at the water plant. When Mr. Rogers arrived at the plant he found that the backwash filters weren’t operating correctly and were not filtering out the manganese. Manganese will make your water appear brown and will leave a ring around your toilet. However, it is not poisonous and it is not toxic. The EPA and DNR do not have minimum levels that we are required to meet, that is why we haven’t issued a boil order, because the water looks bad, but it is safe.
I can’t speak for all of the elected officials in town, but I’m pretty sure that they feel the same way I do about Monroe City. We take our jobs seriously and we are concerned about everything that happens in our community. I take it personally when I hear my community being criticized. I also feel personally responsible when we make a promise to deliver high quality services to the people of Monroe City and we fail. In this case, we have failed to deliver high quality water. But, we are working diligently to correct the issue.
I understand that this response won’t satisfy everyone. Unfortunately, it’s all I have to offer. I have seen several people on social media suggest that maybe everyone in town should get free water, since they were inconvenienced by boiling back in the spring and are being inconvenienced again with brown-looking water. I suppose we could do that. We could give everyone free water for a month. But, we are you, and you and we. WE have all been paying 10s of thousands of dollars in repair bills at the water plant over the past several months. If we give ourselves a month of free water, we will dig ourselves into a financial hole and the only way to get out of that hole will be to charge ourselves more money for water.
And, that brings me to water and sewer rates, which will be the topic of my next letter.
Thank you for reading. I hope you have a better understanding of the issue. Please don’t hesitate to contact me or City Hall if you still have questions.
Mayor Neal R. Minor