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Public invited to tour upgraded water facilities

DIXON – In a room filled with the sound of humming, a big vat of what looks like muddy water is diluted.

Hydrous manganese oxide doesn’t look pleasant and easily stains, water department Superintendent Rusty Cox said, but it bonds with radium, allowing the potentially dangerous element to be filtered from the city’s drinking water.

Dixon residents will get a chance to tour the water department’s upgraded facilities during an open house from 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday.

Click here to see video from the upgraded water treatment plant

Three locations will be open, including the main water plant at 92 Artesian Place, Well No. 6 at 1125 N. Jefferson Ave., and Well No. 7 at 1025 Nachusa Ave. The city’s new aerial fire truck also will be at the Artesian Place plant.

The sites were part of the last two phases of a 5-year project to bring the city into compliance with Environmental Protection Agency rules governing allowable radium and arsenic levels. The project was wrapped up at the end of last year.

At most, radium gives long-term consumers a 1 in 10,000 chance of getting cancers such as bone cancer, the EPA says. The higher the level of radium, the higher the likelihood of getting cancer.

Radium levels were between 7 and 8 picocuries per liter, above the 5 picocurie per liter limit set by the EPA.

City water began to creep above accepted radium levels in 2000. They fell back to acceptable levels in 2001, but rose again in 2002, Cox said.

The city knew it had a problem, and tried to address it by filling in the bottom of the aquifer, targeting the radium’s source.

Radium comes from decaying uranium or thorium, which is present in rock formations, and organic materials.

The plug wasn’t successful, however, so the city decided to use hydrous manganese oxide, which also would lower the water’s arsenic and iron levels. The $13.6 million project was funded by a series of low-interest loans through the state EPA.

Hydrous manganese oxide combines with radium, creating a sludge-like mixture that is filtered through a large tank filled with a series of progressively larger, coarser stones. As it works its way through the tank, the sludge is removed.

Those two tanks at the Artesian Place facility filter the water that comes from wells 3 and 5. These are the oldest wells in operation. No. 3 was drilled in 1894, originally as an artesian well, meaning it required no pumping, which is how Artesian Place got its name.

No. 5 was added in 1948.

Despite being the oldest, they were the last to receive the radium-filtration system because their levels were the lowest.

Of the other five wells, four also have received the new system.

The last well, No. 10, built in 2003 when Rayovac came to town, will not get the system because its radium level is fine.

It’s not just the tanks, though, that are new at Artesian Place.

The 1883 water department building now sits next to a new state-of-the-art facility with garages and an expanded lab, offices and conference room.

The cheery blue and yellow lab is a big improvement over the cramped quarters the water department’s technicians used to use, said Leanne Rogers, one of the department’s chief analysts.

“We have a beautiful view,” Rogers said. “I like the size of it. We’ve got so much more storage now. It’s really nice. We didn’t have any storage basically. We had to use another part of the building to keep all of our supplies.”

The lab is a money-maker for the department. The cities’ analysts run bacteriological samples for the Illinois EPA, testing for things like E. coli.

The water department tests for all sorts of chemicals and compounds, Cox said, because public water supplies are regulated by the state and federal governments, requiring the public to be notified if anything is wrong.

“[Dixon’s water] is the best,” Cox said with a laugh. “It’s very good. It’s a very good supply of water, other than being hard, and that’s just from being in this part of the state because of the limestone.”

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