Eleven Carson City wells could exceed new federal arsenic levels expected to take effect on Jan. 1, 2001.
The Environmental Protection Agency is seeking comments on reducing the level to anywhere between 3 and 10 parts per billion.
According to a 1999 table listing arsenic levels for Carson City wells, 11 exceed 5 parts per billion and six exceed 10 parts per billion. Carson City has 24 wells.
Nevada water purveyors are organizing to deal with the imposition of the lower EPA standard for arsenic.
Charles Lawson of the Nevada Rural Water Association said lowering the standard to a tenth of its present level could leave small water companies high and dry.
Lawson said water officials are expecting the EPA to set the level at 5 parts per billion.
The present federal standard for arsenic is 50 parts per million, but the EPA could reduce that standard to 5 parts per million or less on Jan. 1, 2001.
Lawson said that reduction could cost rural water systems $517 million.
There are 110 community water systems in Nevada, most of which have fewer than 3,300 customers. An estimated 43 percent of those water systems exceed 5 parts per billion, according to a survey prepared for the EPA.
"We've been squawking about this for a long time," Lawson said. "It's a huge cost and that doesn't include operations and maintenance."
Lawson said a new standard was called for by Congress in the 1996 Safe Drinking Water Act.
Lawson said the World Health Organization sets the level at 24 parts per billion.
"Why are we going to five?" he asked.
Water officials sought a level of 10 parts per billion, saying present water treatment technology might not be able to reduce it further.
According to Lawson, there's little proof of what arsenic does in low levels.
"The thing that bothers us most is that there are no good studies conducted in the United States," he said. "I think they are just panicking on the issue."
Carson City Utility Operations Manager Tom Hoffert stressed that the EPA hasn't settled on a level for arsenic.
He said the cost to the city for treatment will depend on what level is selected.
"Right now a lot of research is being done as far as the best methods of treatment," he said. "A number of options to reduce these down to the various levels are being discussed."
Hoffert said Carson City is deeply involved in the process to set the new level.
"It is too early in the game to determine what the financial impacts are going to be because the industry and technology have not caught up with the treatment," he said. "I don't mind supporting it, but there have to be reasonable detection methods and reasonable treatment methods for us to deal with it."