Junction City struggles to find new water source
The 440 residents of Junction City rely solely on two wells to produce the 35,000 gallons of water they need daily, and have done so since Well 6 was shut down May 27, 2014, when the nitrate levels exceed 10 parts per million.
“We don’t have an adequate water supply right now,” said Peter Mallek, the Village Board president in Junction City. “Should we have a fire in town the fire department knows they have to bring water in. Our hydrants are virtually unusable. They would suck the system dry.”
Wells 3 and 4 on the west end of town pump almost constantly to support the Junction City’s water needs, and will continue to do so until a new well is installed or until they fail to produce.
Village officials made two attempts to drill new wells last spring, attempts that were unsuccessful. Twice they drilled 260 feet into the bedrock that stretches across all of Junction City and twice they came up empty. Mallek said he is scouting for new test well locations and will drill another test well as soon as they are able.
The village is working with a fracture trace analysist to find areas where fractures in the bedrock will produce water. In order to hit water in bedrock, a well has to intersect with a fracture in the bedrock. Groundwater moves through the fractures and a well can then pump the water out.
“It’s very difficult and somewhat of a crapshoot because you could drill in one spot and there could be a crevasse 10 feet over, but you wouldn’t know it. You could be missing them by a few feet,” Mallek said. “Had we gotten any water in these test wells at all, they would have considered hydrofracking to open up the fractures.”
Hydrofracking would clean existing crevasses and fractures to allow water to move through freely. It does not create new fractures, as done in fracking oil wells.
Hydrofracking is sometimes done when a well’s production slows or stops, as was the case in the late 1990s when Well 4 went down. The village had to truck in water to get by until they dug temporary Well 5 and hydrofracked Well 4.
“Right now we have enough water to supply our needs, but that is because these wells are constantly pumping,” Mallek said. “It concerns me that that is going to speed up the interval where they are going to need to be hydrofracked because the more water you pull the quicker the crevasses clog.”
Well 6 went online in 2002 partly to make sure the village had a backup if Wells 3 or 4 went down again.
The village was able to use Well 6 for 12 years, until the nitrate levels climbed too high for safe drinking. For the first six years the well’s nitrates level averaged less than one part per million. In 2009 it climbed to 4.28 and by the end of 2013 it was testing at 9.6 parts per million as the nearby Highway 10 bypass of the village was completed.
The nitrate levels capped at 13.9 in 2014. Mallek said they have searched for the source of the nitrates, and while they have theories, there has been nothing conclusive.
One theory is that the nitrates might have been coming from a nearby farm field. The majority of the field’s groundwater flows away from the well, but a groundwater divide in the north quarter of the fields means part of the water flows toward Well 6.
The farmer who rents the field agreed last year to switch from growing corn, which uses manure fertilizer and leaves high levels of nitrates behind, to growing hay, which leaves behind lower levels of nitrates.
Well 6’s nitrates levels were down to 10.3 in September, but Mallek isn’t convinced it should be relied on as a water source. Even though anything below 10 is considered safe to drink, the nitrate levels would have to come down to 8 parts per million before the village could put the well back online.
Even if the well did come down to safe levels, there’s no guarantee it wouldn’t go back up again. Mallek said right now the goal is to find a well spot far enough away from Well 6 that the water won’t be contaminated, yet close enough that they can pipe the water back to Well 6.
“We want to drill a new well and pipe it to the contaminated wellhouse and blend the water in that well house,” said Mallek. “Assuming we have a clean well, that gets us a new well, plus a blend here and then pipe it into the distribution system.”
The new well needs to be as close as possible because laying pipe in bedrock is expensive and not always possible.
“The problem with piping, and one of the reasons we decided not to go across town, we know in this area there is bedrock,” Mallek said. “The rock under the surface – picture it as a rollercoaster. It can be deep, it can be eight feet, it can be two feet and you never know.”
If the village can find a spot to drill, the project will take about $1.5 million to complete, Mallek said.
“This is a huge expense for us. The estimated cost, it would not only be a well it would be the piping, the permits, update the control system for all the wells, new pumps, pump controls and anything else related to water,” Mallek said. “We really want to minimize the impact on our users because we just competed this $2.2 million project, increased the property tax, increased the user fees for sewer and water and virtually doubled it.”
If the village can find a spot to drill, it will apply for the Department of Natural Resource’s Safe Drinking Water loan. The village was also awarded a $500,000 Community Development grant earlier this year, which it can use for the new well project.