Drinking water mandate could cost Watertown $35M

Published: Mar. 21, 2023 at 5:24 PM EDT
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WATERTOWN, New York (WWNY) - A mandate from the Environmental Protection Agency could lead to one of the most expensive undertakings in the city of Watertown’s history.

It’s all part of an effort to improve the quality of drinking water. Now, the city is on the hunt for grants to pay for the project which could cost up to $35 million.

“It’s a very expensive project. It’s bigger than anything we’re doing now,” said Watertown City Manager Ken Mix.

The goal is to eliminate disinfectant byproducts trihalomethane and halocetic acid from drinking water.

They’re released when chlorine is used to clean water. In large amounts, the byproducts have been linked to cancer..

Officials at the treatment facility say the public doesn’t have to worry since the amounts found in the city’s water are still far below dangerous levels.

“But the EPA has set standards for them so we have to reduce them below the threshold levels set by the EPA,” said Mix.

So far, the city has applied for three grants. One is through the Department of Defense since Fort Drum’s water comes from the city. Another is coming from a state water improvement initiative. For the third, Mayor Jeff Smith has been in talks with folks at the federal level.

“Senator Schumer, Congresswomen Tenney and Stefanik about getting earmarks into this year’s budget for that,” said Mix.

Mix says his team is still drafting up an official plan to tackle the issue, but they’ve significantly narrowed down their options.

“It’s either sediment tanks and ozonation and granular activated carbon or a combination of all three of them,” said Mix.

Although the city aims to have most of the cost covered by grants, some folks are going to feel it

“We’ll probably most likely bond or borrow for the remaining portion of it but that is going to have an effect on water rates,” said Mix.

The EPA wants the city to provide an official plan by the end of the year. Mix says it’ll be out a lot earlier than that.