TPU monitoring chlorine usage for city’s water amid shortage caused by regional provider

PIERCE COUNTY, Wash. — Just when you thought supply chain disruptions were a thing left behind in 2020, think again.

On Friday, Tacoma Public Utilities posted an update about steps it’s taking to conserve its chlorine usage to treat water after an electrical issue halted production at the Westlake chemical plant in Longview.

According to TPU:

“Earlier this week, Tacoma Public Utilities and our partners including Seattle Public Utilities, the City of Everett and the Department of Health were made aware of a situation temporarily impacting the supply of chlorine gas, sodium hypochlorite, hydrochloric acid, and caustic soda to drinking water and wastewater utilities throughout Washington.”

Chlorine gas and sodium hypochlorite are used in drinking water treatment processes to disinfect.

The supply chain disruption “is the result of the loss of a primary electrical transformer, which temporarily halted production at the chemical manufacturing plant in Longview.”

Production at the plant is estimated to resume any time between June 25-28, according to various reports.

TPU noted it has enough chlorine supply on hand to last more than 30 days.

Additionally, “We have reduced the amount of chlorine used for treatment while still maintaining required safety levels to conserve our chlorine supply.”

The utility also noted that it was supplementing the water supply from the Green River “with our groundwater wells from the underground aquifer in Tacoma that does not rely on chlorine from this supplier to maintain drinking water quality.”

Craig Downs, the operations manager for TPU’S water supply and filtration plant, told The News Tribune in a phone interview Friday that the groundwater system is capable of generating its own chlorine.

“We have the ability to run our South Tacoma groundwater resource, which has a separate chlorine generation system, so we can actually produce the chlorine for those wells on site, and are not dependent on these providers. We have activated that well field, and today we’ve actually ramped it up to 25 million gallons a day of production.”

The wells were last used extensively in 2015 during that year’s drought.

The chlorine generation and other modifications, he noted, should keep Tacoma in good shape.

“We’ve been modifying our chlorine dose to try to stretch that supply out further. ... We should have plenty of supply to last until the supply chain returns to normal,” he said.

He added that “At this point there’s not a specific ask of customers, but we always do encourage our customers to use their water wisely.”

Rebekah Anderson, media representative for the utility, told The News Tribune via email that “We constantly monitor the chlorine residual both at the treatment plants as well as multiple locations throughout our distribution system. We also collect approximately 40 to 50 coliform bacteria samples throughout the distribution system each week, and chlorine residuals are collected along with those samples. These are sent to a certified lab for analysis.”

The shortage is affecting regional water suppliers in both Washington and Oregon, with some municipalities warning of potential boil orders in the future and calling for conservation now.

While no water restrictions are in place for customers, “if customers want to know what they can do, any less usage of water would help extend our chlorine supply,” TPU said in its post.

A separate chlorine tablet shortage, the result of a chemical fire at a plant in Louisiana last August, has led to scattered pool closures across the country and frustrated pool owners, including those who added new home pools during the pandemic.

When the Longview outage occurred, according to Downs, “the supply chain in this market was already stretched thin, because of that, so I do have to say that because of the other stuff that’s been going on, it probably didn’t help the situation.”

“Our main chemical supplier for chlorine ... this plant is their main provider. They do have other providers and have been able to get some raw materials and to continue some limited production, but because of the shortage nationwide, everybody’s stretched thin, so there’s not an abundance of those raw materials to go around,” Downs said.

“We have been able to get some limited deliveries, even as recently as yesterday. So there is some product that’s out there in the industry,” he noted.

State officials late Friday also issued a statement regarding the regional shortage.

“We assure you there is no immediate impact to drinking water in Washington,” said Lauren Jenks, assistant secretary of Environmental Public Health for Washington state. “We will continue to monitor and communicate updates as they happen.”

On Saturday, Craig Hale, water division supervisor for the City of Puyallup, told The News Tribune via email in response to questions that the city’s system also was in good shape.

“The City of Puyallup has a 60- to 90-day supply of chlorine, depending on demand,” Hale wrote.

The city also can access 2.5 million gallons per day via Tacoma if needed. “We are not implementing rationing at this time and we do not anticipate any boil water restrictions,” Hale wrote.

This story was originally published by The News Tribune.