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County, state officials unveiling plan that will address tainted drinking water

A pilot program to help treat drinking water that contains too many nitrates will be unveiled on Tuesday, Jan. 4, at the Sunnyside Community Center.

The treatment program will be aimed at helping Lower Valley households served by private wells that have tested high for nitrates.

Sen. Jim Honeyford (R-15th District), who helped secure $500,000 to allow Yakima County to develop a treatment program, will join Yakima County commissioners, Yakima County staff, representatives from the EPA, the Yakima Health District, Washington State Department of Health, Culligan International and other partners at the noon press conference next Tuesday to explain the program.

Lisa Freund, administrative supervisor for Yakima County Public Services, said the program is in response to the high nitrate levels in the Lower Valley groundwater.

The program will help low-income households and those households with occupants with high-risk health factors. These include households with pregnant women, infants under 12 months and people with health problems that are increased by high nitrate levels.

Households that qualify for the program will get a new reverse-osmosis water treatment system installed. The company that was awarded the bid, Culligan International, will be at Tuesday's press conference to show how the system works.

Households that don't qualify for the program but have groundwater that tests high for nitrates, will be able to purchase a water treatment system at a reduced cost.

Yakima County will spend $400,000 on the program and $100,000 for groundwater management. Freund said between 300 and 400 water treatment systems will be available.

"We're trying to stretch the money as far as possible to make it as fair as possible to everyone," she said.

Yakima County Public Services will hold three public meetings as well to help reach the public. All meetings will begin at 6 p.m. The first one is Wednesday, Jan. 12, at Artz-Fox Elementary School in Mabton; the second is on Thursday, Jan. 13, at the Denny Blaine Building board room in Sunnyside; and the third will be held on Wednesday, Jan. 19, at the Toppenish High School cafeteria.

Yakima County will also mail out 8,000 packets to Lower Valley residents that are known to use private wells. The packet will include a test card so residents can test their water immediately. An application will be included in the packet, as well as a list of certified testing labs in the area.

Honeyford said he felt compelled to act because he realized there was a problem in the Lower Valley.

"I wanted to get relief for those with bad wells," he said.

Honeyford amended the supplemental operating budget in the Ways and Means Committee to secure the funding. The grant is being administrated by the Department of Health. Honeyford explained that the administrative costs are less with the Department of the Health than with other agencies.

The money came from the state's toxics account, which is funded by chemical manufacturers.

Households that mail in applications before Jan. 28, 2011, will receive first consideration. Applicants will be accepted through April of 2011.

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