The installation of uranium filtration at Wells #2 & #3 is well underway (you may have seen the filtration tanks). Well #3 is the priority since it provides greater capacity. The current goal is to complete our testing and submit for approval from the State on June 20th. State approval is the wildcard and everything is being done to keep them apprised of the situation to expedite the process. If all goes well, we hope the wells will be operational by July 8th.
The work on the inter-tie with Lukins Brothers Water Company (LBWC) has begun (15th Street is currently being dug up). The optimistic timeline to have this project complete and operational is June 19th, which is almost 2 weeks ahead of where we thought we’d be this time last week. Of course, it all comes down to the contractor not hitting any unforeseen issues.
The installation of the STPUD inter-tie backflow prevention device is awaiting completion of the plans needed to submit to the City to get a permit. This project is somewhat delayed, installation likely won’t start for three weeks. That said, this is our lowest priority project right now as it’s not part of our intermediate-term plan to restore irrigation; it’s more an insurance policy for emergencies.
As you can see, the short-term and intermediate-term projects are proceeding well.
There have been questions from several homeowners regarding operating Well #3 and allowing irrigation now (given we weren’t cited by the State as expected). As a fellow homeowner, I can appreciate this desire.
First, we face the practicality that Well #3 will be literally cut off (i.e., pipes cut) from the distribution system on Monday (June 7th) to install filtration. It’ll be reconnected at the end of the day Tuesday so that the filtration testing can commence on Wednesday. While testing is underway, Well #3 will remain isolated from the distribution system and we have to run Well #3 in its intended configuration to get State approvals. This means we can’t pump water from Well #3 into the distribution system for irrigation while also testing the filtration.
The reality is that anything we try to do now to use Well #3 for irrigation will delay filtration installation. We are so close to restoring some level of irrigation while ensuring we have safe drinking water that it doesn’t make sense to deviate from the current plan.
That said, let me try to provide some context regarding the Board’s decision on May 19th to not use Well #3 as our lead well to allow landscape irrigation.
The State has to use all tests over the preceding four quarters to calculate an average that is used to determine whether we are over the maximum contaminant level (MCL) of 30 parts per billion (ppb). As you can read here, Well #3 had six tests over the MCL and one under.
The sample under the MCL was taken immediately after Well #3 had been restarted (having not been used for a month). According to our Water Company Manager, this was incorrect procedurally (the procedure being to let it run for at least 24 hours). When the test returned below MCL, Dan ordered a retest because of the procedural error (the retest came back over the MCL).
So, despite the State’s average being at the MCL, if you exclude the erroneous sample, Well #3 is, in fact, above the MCL.
The State left the decision whether to operate Well #3 up to Dan Larson. Dan deferred the decision to the Board at the last Board Meeting. Ultimately, the consensus (of the Board and our Oversight Committee) was that the only reason Well #3 wasn’t cited by the State was due to an erroneous test result. Therefore, from a health and safety standpoint, it would be best to leave Well #3 as a backup and proceed as planned with the short and intermediate-term projects.
Arguably, the risk from uranium is from long-term exposure (based on what I’ve read), which is why, I assume, the State averages results over four quarters. So there is an argument that running Well #3 for a month while we complete the above projects would pose a minimal health and safety risk. However, since plans were well underway with the short and intermediate-term projects that would ensure safe drinking water and allow for irrigation, the prudent course of action seemed to be to stay the course. Plus, there was the concern of how we’d be able to stop irrigation again on short notice so we could safely take Well #3 offline to install filtration.
What about the feasibility of mixing water from Well #1 with water from Well #3 within our distribution system and thereby reduce the uranium level overall? Unfortunately, blending would only occur near the middle of the distribution system. Effectively, homeowners on the west side of the Keys would drink water from Well #3 (above the MCL), and homeowners on the east side would drink water from Well #1.
And while we could try and operate Well #3 at night for irrigation, the “resident water time” (how long the water remains in the pipes) is approximately twelve hours. Therefore, even if we stopped pumping at 6 am, water from Well #3 will still be in the distribution system until 6 pm. Of course, this isn’t exact, but suffice to say, water from Well #3 wouldn’t magically disappear just because the pump is off.
So what does all this mean?
Well #3 will be offline as of Monday and will remain disconnected from the distribution system until we receive State approval to operate it with filtration. So, regardless of whether we should have used Well #3 to allow irrigation or not, the window of opportunity seems to have passed, and it does not make sense to delay the filtration installation. As per State mandates, we will have to test Well #3 again in July, and unless there is a miracle, we will be cited and will have to be shut down.
But, if all goes to plan, we hope that by July 8th, we will be able to restore a level of irrigation for homeowners (possibly sooner).
The goal is to have Wells #2 & #3 operational with filtration and the LBWC inter-tie up and running, which will provide 2700 gallons per minute (gpm) of capacity. We feel this capacity will be sufficient to allow a reasonable level of landscape irrigation. Once our SCADA control system is in place later in July, our capacity will increase to 3300 gpm, thanks to blending at Well #3. At this point, we will have weathered the immediate crisis and our attention can go back to the long-term solution to our water issues.
The Board of Directors, our volunteer Oversight Committee and Staff all appreciate everyone’s patience and support through this process, we know it hasn’t been easy.