Ferndale gets state OK for water softener; should be online by September


FERNDALE - The city's plan for softening its municipal water was approved by the state Board of Health last week, and Ferndale officials will put the $2 million project out to bid by the end of this month.

The state's approval letter, dated Feb. 25, was a milestone in the city's effort to correct the hard-water problem it has had since converting from Nooksack River water provided by the Public Utility District of Whatcom County to water from its two wells.

Since the conversion to well water in December 2011, calcium levels - a measure of hardness - have consistently ranged from 150 to 170 parts per million, which was more than twice the 70 ppm found in river water. The city has fielded hundreds of complaints from residents about the water's taste, stained dishes or damaged appliances.

A smaller version of the nanofiltration system the city will use to soften the water went through a three-month trial run last summer and performed flawlessly, city officials said.

"It exceeded our expectations," said Mike Olinger, the city's water treatment plant operator.

The city plans to have the softener operating by the end of September, according to a post on Ferndale's Facebook page. Because the filters eliminate all hardness, the softened water will be mixed with regular well water to obtain a hardness of 70 ppm. The filters also remove salts, organic matter and arsenic.

Water customers' rates won't be increased to pay for the softener, Finance Director Mark Peterson said. The water fund will borrow $1 million from the sewer fund and spend $200,000 the PUD paid to Ferndale after the city ended its contract with the utility.

The rest of the $2 million expense will be paid out of the water fund's cash reserves, which are healthy at about $2 million, Peterson said.

Reach Ralph Schwartz at 360-715-2289 or ralph.schwartz@bellinghamherald.com. Read his Politics blog at bellinghamherald.com/politics-blog or get updates on Twitter at @bhampolitics.

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