There’s hope that the concerns over nitrite levels in water supplies west of Commerce could come to an end as early as the first week of September.
The North Hunt Special Utility District, which provides water to rural customers in Hunt and Fannin counties, issued an alert on Aug. 8 that high nitrite levels had been identified in water systems serving customers along CR 4511, CR 2874 and CR 4400 – all west of Commerce. The statement cautioned that infants under the age of six months should not drink the water.
Nitrite levels of 1.51 milligrams per liter were reported to North Hunt SUD on Aug. 8 by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, according to Stacey Nicholson, general manager of North Hunt SUD. The TCEQ test was conducted Aug. 5, Nicholson said.
The TCEQ threshold for unacceptable nitrite levels is 2 milligrams per liter, according to the statement issued by North Hunt SUD.
“TCEQ rounds, so if it had been 1.49, no violation,” said City of Commerce utilities manager Bryan Creed.
Typically, water utilities have their water tested once every three months. On Aug. 21, TCEQ has responded to a request by North Hunt SUD to return to Hunt County and test the water again before the end of August, Nicholson said.
“I spoke with TCEQ,” Nicholson said. “They are going to submit a request for a retest. It should be tested by the 28th and it will take about three to four days for results.”
North Hunt SUD officials said they are optimistic that the next TCEQ test will show nitrite levels below 1.5 milligrams per liter. North Hunt contracted Kilgore-based Ana-Lab Corp. to conduct a test on Aug. 12. That test returned nitrite levels of about 0.3 milligrams per liter, Nicholson said. However, the TCEQ does not recognize results from tests conducted outside of its monitoring process, so the warning alert has remained in effect, she said.
North Hunt SUD serves about 1,400 customers in rural areas of northern Hunt and southern Fannin counties, Nicholson said. Although the utility operates several wells near the Hunt-Fannin line, all North Hunt SUD water serving the area west of Commerce is purchased from the City of Commerce, she said.
City of Commerce water has consistently tested clean, Creed said. Presumably, the nitrites entered the North Hunt SUD water after the water had left the City of Commerce system and entered the North Hunt SUD system. However, neither the cause of the high nitrite readings nor the location of possible contamination sites have been identified, Nicholson said.
Fluctuating nitrite levels in water delivery systems typically result from nitrogen-based fertilizers entering waters, Creed said.
“You have farmers sometimes inject directly nitrogen gas into the ground – that can leech into your system,” Creed said.
Nitrogen compounds can occur naturally in rock, but in such cases, nitrite levels in well water drawn from such sites will remain fairly consistent, Creed said.
“It can be in a formation underground, in your well,” Creed said. “If a well tests positive for nitrites, it’s going to produce nitrites. It’s not going to come and go.”
Conversely, nitrite levels caused by fertilizer use can be one-time events that are difficult to track, Creed said.
The City of Commerce last had nitrite problems in December 2012, Creed said, and the cause was never identified.
“It was really difficult for us,” Creed said. “I tested somewhere around 50 different samples at different wells and different spots and I could not get any detection levels. It really makes it difficult to find something if you can’t get it to reoccur … I can’t track it if I can’t find it.”
The City of Commerce gets about 60 percent of its water from Lake Tawakoni, where nitrite levels have not been a problem, Creed said.
The other 40 percent comes from wells. The city operates four wells around the unincorporated Delta County community of Horton – just east of Commerce along FM 71. The city also operates two wells within the city limits – one near Martin Luther King Drive and one near Washington Street.
North Hunt SUD was founded in 1966 and did not have any problems with high nitrite readings until 2011, Nicholson said.