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Bingen to pay for pilot study in hopes of solving smelly water issues

Cost of $14,000

>After two weeks of discussion on Bingen's plethora of water issues, the city council voted during its Aug. 21 meeting to start taking action on one of them.

In a unanimous decision, the council voted to pay out a maximum of $14,000 from the city's water construction fund for a pilot study that will test ways to solve Bingen's problems with hydrogen sulfide. This chemical compound that is present in city wells is harmless in small amounts but gives off an unpleasant rotten-eggs-and-sulfur odor.

Bingen's hydrogen sulfide problems are not new, but the city's desire to rely more on its own water supply -- along with persistent complaints about smelly water from residents and business owners -- have prompted the city council to take steps toward solving the issue.

Councilmember Clinton Bryan has been particularly vocal about the issue and said his house reeks when he turns on the water for his morning shower.

"I'm absolutely livid about it," he said during the meeting.

Councilmember Catherine Kiewit was less certain about how far the city should go in spending money to eradicate the hydrogen sulfide and viewed the issue in terms of a cost-benefit analysis.

"I know that there's a lot of low-income people here," Kiewit said, "and they may rather have stinky water and cheap water than, you know, fantastic water and pay more."

"Well, water isn't cheap and it's definitely stinky," Bryan replied.

Councilmember Laura Mann stated that the pilot study was worth pursuing and that "the people of Bingen have complained about [smelly water] for a long time."

Vancouver engineering firm Gray & Osborne, who will be performing the study, briefly outlined three options for reducing hydrogen sulfide during an Aug. 7 meeting. The three fixes ranged from $150,000 to $350,000 and included oxidation, air stripping and filtering city water through granular activated carbon. Air stripping, though, was listed as a likely less effective option due to the relatively high pH of Bingen's water.

Some of the council initially balked at the $14,000 study, citing concerns that paying that amount merely to know the final cost of the project was unnecessary. City Administrator Jan Brending said the study would provide additional benefits.

"I think the $14,000 provides evidence that whatever recommended option will work," she explained. "So then it's not, well, later down the road we spend $250,000 and find out it doesn't work."

Brending continued that whatever the cost was of the selected option, the city would likely have to seek a loan to pay for the hydrogen sulfide project and noted that "either one of these scenarios would take an additional rate increase." The city already has an ordinance in place that annually raises water rates by 5 percent.

Brending also mentioned that by eliminating the smelly hydrogen sulfide, Bingen could rely more on its own water supply instead of spending significantly more money purchasing the odor-free White Salmon water. The savings would ideally be used to build reserves for future projects -- such as replacing Bingen's leaky water lines.

Mann made a motion to go forward with the pilot, with a second from Bryan. Brending said the pilot study could commence ASAP per Gray & Osborne's schedule and that the council would have to decide whether or not to move forward with the project once the study is complete. The council agreed to survey residents and business owners to determine whether the hydrogen sulfide problem is an issue worth spending the money to fix.


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