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Utilities vary chemicals based on conditions

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The water that comes out of your faucet in Bargersville doesn’t look any different from the water in Greenwood, but the chemicals used to clean that water aren’t the same.

Two town water departments and a statewide water company provide water for residents in Johnson County, and each agency uses different chemicals to purify the water.

The agencies have used mostly the same water treatments for decades, basing the chemicals they use on what natural chemicals already are found in their water and the type of pipes the water runs through. But one local town recently added a temporary chemical to better disinfect its water, because more natural ammonia was in the water than usual.

Water department officials say the chemicals are meant to keep the water clean, and residents likely won’t notice a difference in the taste or smell of water in one community compared with water somewhere else.

The Edinburgh and Bargersville water departments and Indiana American Water Co., which provides water for residents in Franklin, Greenwood, Whiteland and New Whiteland, all use chlorine and fluoride to treat the water. Chlorine is used to disinfect the water, and fluoride is used to strengthen residents’ teeth.

Bargersville and Edinburgh both have used the chemicals for more than 30 years, and each pays $125 to $450 a month for chlorine and up to $600 a month for fluoride.

The towns do not frequently change the chemicals they put in their water because the water’s composition does not easily change, but state law requires utilities to test the water weekly for bacteria, Edinburgh water superintendent Mike Pendleton said.

If the water’s chemical makeup did change, the water departments would look at adding different chemicals, officials said.

Each agency uses treatments based on the natural chemicals found in the water and how they want the water to feel.

Edinburgh uses phosphate to remove iron from the community’s water, so it doesn’t become rust-colored and stain sinks or clothes in the laundry. The town also started using a new chemical, chloramine, this week, Pendleton said.

Chloramine is a mixture of ammonia sulfate and chlorine that will disinfect the water longer by getting rid of the extra natural ammonia, which is currently in two of the town’s four wells. More natural ammonia is in the water now because of last summer’s drought, and the ammonia causes the chlorine the department puts in the water to dissolve faster, Pendleton said.

The water department stopped using the two wells with more ammonia in November but has been able to get enough water to residents, Pendleton said.

But the department could deplete those wells in use if the other two remain closed for a few months.

The water department will stop using chloramine in about four months once a new part on the wells starts blocking the natural ammonia again, Pendleton said. The new chemical costs the water department about $7.50 a day, but the added expense will not show up on residents’ bills, Pendleton said.

Bargersville residents pay a higher price for their water because the town uses an additional chemical to give the water a different feel, water plant supervisor Gregg Henderson said.

The chemical, sodium hydroxide, makes the water softer, Henderson said.

Water that isn’t softened has a lot of calcium in it, which makes the water harder because calcium is dissolved from rock.

The sodium hydroxide removes about 60 percent of the calcium, Henderson said.

Residents like the softer water because it creates suds easier, which means people can use less soap to wash clothes or hair. However, the extra chemical can cost the town more than $30,000 a month, especially in the summer when residents are using more water, Henderson said.

The cost is the reason many other water departments don’t soften their water, but Bargersville has softened its water since the 1950s and doesn’t want to take that away from customers, he said.

“We get a lot of compliments on our water,” Henderson said.

Indiana American Water Co., which provides water for multiple Johnson County communities, charges customers the same rates, although the chemicals the company uses aren’t the same in each community.

The company uses a mix of ground and surface water, from lakes and ponds, and treats the water with only chlorine and fluoride in most parts of Johnson County. The company adds a third chemical, zinc orthophosphate, to the water in Greenwood, Indian American spokesman Joe Loughmiller said.

Zinc orthophosphate prevents the city’s newer copper pipes from corroding but doesn’t have to be used in other communities because the pipes are not made of copper.

He said the chemical does not make the water in Greenwood taste any different.

Loughmiller said the company does not regularly change what chemicals it puts in the water because the chemical makeup of the water almost never changes.

“One of the advantages of groundwater is it’s reliable and consistent,” he said. “You don’t have to change the approach to how you treat it.”

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