The city of Pickerington will purchase equipment next month designed to alleviate water plant discharges that the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency maintains are contaminating Sycamore Creek.

The city of Pickerington will purchase equipment next month designed to alleviate water plant discharges that the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency maintains are contaminating Sycamore Creek.

For the better part of the last two years, the state EPA has said conventional sodium water softeners used at Pickerington's water plant to achieve desirable hardness levels in the city's drinking water are generating backwash that travels through the wastewater treatment plant on Hill Road and into Sycamore Creek.

The result, according to the EPA, is saltwater contamination of Sycamore Creek, which doesn't present a danger to humans but is toxic to aquatic species.

The city has challenged whether those "total dissolved solids," or TDS levels, exceed state limits, and spent $22,000 on a study to determine if Pickerington's effluent is having an impact on species in Sycamore Creek and what the city's true TDS permit limit should be.

As those methods failed to appease the EPA, the city last August authorized the $140,000 design of a reverse-osmosis system that would nearly eliminate TDS, while also maintaining desirable water hardness.

Next month, the city will implement its plan to solve the problem after Pickerington City Council on Dec. 7 unanimously approved the purchase of the equipment. Per a contract with Wigen Companies Inc., the city will spend up to $858,060 for the reverse osmosis system.

"The project is on track to be in operation by the end of 2011," said Greg Bachman, Pickerington city engineer. "There is a five- to six-month lead time on receiving the reverse osmosis equipment.

"The city will bid a separate general contractor contract in early 2011 to install the reverse osmosis equipment."

According to Bachman, the reverse osmosis equipment is designed to soften and treat the city's well water.

"Upon completion (of the project), the city of Pickerington will have the highest quality drinking water in the area," he said.

The overall cost of the equipment and its installation is estimated at $2-million. The work is expected to be completed by next fall.

"The reverse osmosis equipment will reduce our total dissolved solids discharged to Sycamore Creek," Bachman said. "We monitor and test our discharge to Sycamore Creek monthly and will check to make sure that our TDS is below the Ohio EPA limits."

Sycamore Creek is part of the Walnut Creek watershed. Water from the creek and the watershed flows into the Scioto River.

EPA officials have said efforts to clean up the watershed in recent years have led to a resurgence of aquatic life that previously hadn't been seen in 50 years.

While some city council members have challenged the EPA's standing in the matter related to the city's alleged pollution of Sycamore Creek, they have in recent months gotten on board with the plan to eliminate TDS via the reverse osmosis system.

As council was mulling the design of the project, council Vice President Brian Sauer said the reverse osmosis system shouldn't significantly increase Pickerington's budget in the long run because the city currently spends money to soften potable water with salt.

"It's essentially a break-even," Sauer said last May.

"If you consider the cost we do every year for salt for softening ... the amount we pay is roughly the same as the cost of a reverse osmosis system, plus maintenance."