There has been discussion on social media during the last two weeks about concerns over water quality as it relates to the city’s decision to accept and treat landfill leachate and deficiencies at the Pitman Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant (WWTP).
First, it is important to note that these are separate issues and should be treated as such. Furthermore, neither of these issues has any impact on the quality of our drinking water. Let me be clear: Water that comes from the tap in Somerset is safe and meets all state and federal quality guidelines. You can view our water quality report online anytime on the city’s website.
Leachate is liquid that is generated from water percolating through a solid waste disposal site, and must be treated properly before it is discharged into receiving waters or recycling. We began accepting and treating leachate, as discussed in public meetings, in 2019 as a way of generating additional revenue for the city. This revenue enables us to keep our rates as some of the lowest in the region. Leachate is processed at Pitman Creek WWTP within the parameters and testing guidelines of the Kentucky Division of Water. We remain in compliance for our treatment of this substance and monitor this highly regulated process closely.
Since I took office we have been working to fund, design and install a dewatering system using a screw press at Pitman Creek WWTP. A dewatering system is necessary to remove solids left behind from the treatment process. As documented many times over the last several years in public meetings, the city has been under a friendly agreed order from the Kentucky Division of Water since 2018 to add this system to our plant. The order stems from compliance issues that surfaced in 2016. We need the dewatering system to regulate levels of contaminants, like Escherichia coli (E. coli), more effectively and efficiently.
When I was elected, we immediately began complying with this order and have since secured a low-interest Kentucky Infrastructure Authority loan and a multimillion-dollar Economic Development Administration grant to fund the project. It has been an enormous challenge, but I am proud to say we have tackled it head-on.
Had compliance issues from 2016 been addressed with urgency, we would likely be in a much different situation. Still yet, had these issues ever posed a significant public safety risk, neither the Kentucky Division of Water nor the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) would have afforded us the time to make these upgrades happen — and likely would have assessed heavy fines.
Of even greater significance is the fact that had either of these organizations had any concern about our plant processing leachate knowing it is under this agreed order, they wouldn’t have allowed it to happen. These entities are in the business of protecting the environment and public safety.
Our dewatering system is almost fully designed and will go out for bid this summer. The hopeful completion date is the following summer. In the interim, we have outsourced removal of solids to help alleviate these issues.
The claim that leachate can be tied directly to increases in E. coli in Pitman Creek is unfounded. Veiled concerns about hexavalent chromium, a harmful chemical, in Pitman Creek’s output are also invalid. Hexavalent chromium levels have been so low when tested at Pitman Creek during the last three years that they do not even meet the minimum state recordable limit.
We monitor and test our outflows into Pitman Creek daily according to state guidelines. We have done that throughout this process — before and after accepting leachate — and will continue to do so. Pitman Creek has dozens of other output sources. It was designated as an impaired waterway by the EPA in 2008 — well before the challenges at our WWTP began — due to a number of factors, including farm animals, industrial output and municipal point discharge. When tested, E. coli is present up and downstream at varying levels. As a reminder, the Pitman Creek WWTP is just one of many sources of output in Pitman Creek. Many of those sources are not regulated like ours.
The City of Somerset is borrowing up to $4.5 million to fix this ongoing challenge and likely spending a total of nearly $8 million, all on problems that were created nearly six years ago. Those problems are thankfully now being addressed by our administration and have no impact on our ability to accept and treat leachate. We will continue to accept leachate at the Pitman Creek WWTP at the levels the state approves us to treat it, and by the guidelines the state sets for us. We are doing so in a safe manner. Public safety is our top priority, and we would never knowingly do anything to put our residents at risk.