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Updated: Tuesday, 05 Jul 2011, 12:35 PM CDT
Published : Thursday, 30 Jun 2011, 4:58 PM CDT
BURNET COUNTY. Texas (KXAN) - Most of us take for granted that when we turn on our water faucet, pure, clear water will come flowing out.
In Gene Braun’s home in the Council Creek neighborhood in Burnet County, the water looks clear, but it’s not as pure as he’d like. It’s not as pure as the Environmental Protection Agency would like, either.
Braun’s water is supplied by the Council Creek Village water company. It is privately owned by Jack Owen and serves slightly more than 300 people.
For years, test results for the water supplied by Council Creek Village have far exceeded the EPA safety standards for radioactive material, or what’s known as radionuclides.
Reports filed with the Texas Commission for Environmental Quality show Council Creek Village water system test results range from five times to nine times the safety limit established by the EPA for radium and alpha radiation.
“We knew we had dirty water. I did know that, but I had no idea it was that bad,” said Braun.
As of June 15, at least 49 out of the state’s 4,728 community drinking water systems have reported radioactive material levels exceeding the state and federal regulatory limits.
Some of the water systems are located in areas served by the Hickory Aquifer.
All water companies conduct regular testing. When test results show levels higher than the limit, the water company is required to notify its customers.
All public water systems are also required to file what’s called an annual Consumer Confidence Report. The TCEQ makes the reports available online.
But, the reports are not always easy to understand. Braun doesn’t know the difference between a picocurie and a millirem, (types of measurements for radioactive absorption) and believes most other people wouldn’t, either.
"Well, I assume that there was someone in Austin that oversaw these systems and would regulate so that it would be safe," said Braun.
Braun said he is dismayed to learn that TCEQ and the EPA have known about the excess levels for years and have done nothing more than issuing repeated violations to Council Creek Village. The violations do not come with any fine or penalties.
Elston Johnson, the manager of TCEQ’s Public Drinking Water Section, said the agency prefers to handle violations in a different manner.
“Instead of issuing a penalty and having them pay that, it would be better to use that money and those resources to come up with a solution,” he said.
TCEQ works with owners of privately owned water systems to gain compliance, but sometimes that can take years. The cost of treating the water can be very costly and many small water companies struggle with finding the funding. The cost is usually passed along to customers.
An exorbitant cost of treatment could result in losing the water supply completely.
State Rep. Harvey Hilderbran, a Kerrvile Republican whose district encompasses many areas where high levels of radionuclides exist in the underground water, said it is important to consider the cost-benefit of the situation.
"So what's a greater threat to someone's health?” Hilderbran said. “Having no water or having some that has some naturally reoccurring radionuclides?”
Hilderbran said the EPA should consider revising the safety limits to reflect science that he believes disputes the harm level.
He pointed to counties that are completely served by the Hickory Aquifer and have higher levels of radionuclides. He says the city of Eden is a good example.
“They show that they have an older population, they have a population of people who live longer and have less of an occurrence of cancer,” said Hilderbran.
Susan Jablonski, a health physicist and the director of Radioactive Materials Division for TCEQ, agreed that the levels set by the EPA are very conservative.
She said the average American is exposed to far more radiation just by living on the planet. Radiation is found in food, in the air and even our bodies. The exposure from drinking water that exceeds the limit, even by a factor of 10, is minuscule.
Jablonski said the increase in exposure in higher levels reported at Council Creek Village is equivalent to what someone would get if they moved from Texas to Denver. Denver is exposed to a higher level of radiation due to its high altitude. Depending on lifestyle and other factors, radiation exposure can vary. The EPA offers an online calculator to help determine exposure from daily living.
Jablonski said everyday activities, such as eating, breathing and sleeping next to someone, exposes us to radiation. Just taking several cross-country flights is likely to cause more exposure to radiation than the customers of Council Creek Village are getting. Still, she said Council Creek Village should take the necessary steps to comply with EPA standards.
The owners of Council Creek Village will be meeting with TCEQ on July 27 to discuss an action plan for lowering the levels of radionuclides found in their water supply.
It’s a meeting that is long overdue in Gene Braun’s opinion. He said the state needs to enforce the regulatory standard to ensure all Texans are getting clean, safe water.
|BREWSTER||LAJITAS ON RIO GRANDE|
|BURNET||COUNCIL CREEK VILLAGE|
|BURNET||LCRA BONANZA BEACH|
|BURNET||SOUTH SILVER CREEK I,II,III|
|CONCHO||CITY OF EDEN|
|ERATH||PIGEON ROAD ESTATES|
|HARRIS||HARRIS COUNTY MUD 105|
|HARRIS||SUBURBAN MHP 2|
|JIM WELLS||JIM WELLS COUNTY FWSD 1|
|KENDALL||KENDALL COUNTY WCID 1|
|KERR||FALLING WATER SUBDIVISION|
|LLANO||LCRA TOW VILLAGE|
|LUBBOCK||CITY OF SHALLOWATER|
|LUBBOCK||CITY OF WOLFFORTH|
|LUBBOCK||FORT JACKSON MHP|
|LUBBOCK||PECAN GROVE MHP|
|LUBBOCK||TOWN NORTH ESTATES|
|MASON||CITY OF MASON|
|MCCULLOCH||CITY OF BRADY|
|MCCULLOCH||CITY OF MELVIN|
|MCCULLOCH||LIVE OAK HILLS SUB-DEL|
|MCCULLOCH||RICHLAND SUD BRADY|
|MEDINA||GUSVILLE TRAILER PARK|
|MIDLAND||VALLEY VIEW MHP|
|MONTGOMERY||HULON LAKES SUBDIVISION|
|MONTGOMERY||VISTA VERDA WATER|
|PARKER||CITY OF ALEDO|
|PARKER||SADDLE CLUB ESTATES|
|PECOS||PECOS COUNTY FWSD|
|POLK||CRYSTAL LAKES ESTATES|
|POLK||TEMPE WSC 1|
|SAN SABA||NORTH SAN SABA WSC|
|TYLER||WHITE TAIL RIDGE|
|VAL VERDE||SAN PEDRO CANYON|
|VICTORIA||ARENOSA CREEK ESTATES|
|WALKER||WATSON LAKES WSC|
|WASHINGTON||COUNTRY PLACE NW-DEL|
|ZAVALA||ZAVALA COUNTY WCID 1|
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