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Kenai's arsenic woes continue as new well construction delayed

Posted: June 29, 2013 - 7:36pm  |  Updated: June 30, 2013 - 4:00pm

A test for arsenic in Kenai’s water supply showed levels slightly above the EPA’s standard for drinking water.

Last fall, Kenai opened a new water treatment facility and had plans to open a new well near the facility to address elevated levels of the naturally-occuring toxin. However, a delay in opening the new well coupled with peak water demand in the past few weeks prompted the city to bring older wells — ones that consistently test above the EPA’s arsenic standard — back into production.

“We haven’t been using these wells,” said Rick Koch, Kenai City Manager. “From beginning to end they’re not going to be in service probably a month because as soon as it starts raining and we don’t have the level of demand in the water system, we’re not going to need them.”

Koch said the city’s test — which came in at 11.8 parts per billion according to the DEC — was conducted near the source of the high-arsenic water and would be repeated throughout the system.

“One part per billion over the limit ... when you’re talking about one part per billion that’s a fantastically small number that you may exceed a limitation by,” Koch said.

Last year, when the water treatment plant came online in mid-June, Koch said the new well should be operational in the fall, however delays in engineering plans and DEC permitting at the site mean it will not be connected to the city’s water for at least three months.

The city applied for an “approval to construct” permit from DEC in September, however it was only for a portion of the well, said, Scott Forgue, regional engineering coordinator for the Kenai Southeast Area of the drinking water program through the DEC.

“It got to be late in the season and they didn’t have all the information to allow me to permit that new well and issue the plan approval for the construction,” Forgue said. “They took the approach of getting the approval to construct just the water line portion of it. I gave them an approval to construct that in September because that’s all the information they could get for me.”

Forgue said he did not get an engineering plan from the city detailing the well and the well pump until the spring, he approved those plans in May.

While the city is not required to get an approval to construct permit to finish building the new well, Forgue said it would need a permit when the well became a public water system source.

Koch said the city would not begin construction until it received the DEC’s approval.

“70 percent of the project (funding) comes through state grants, but we cannot start construction of that (well tie-in) until we had authority to construct from the DEC or we don’t get reimbursement from the grant,” Koch said.

It will take several weeks before construction can begin on the final portion of the well as some of the pieces must be manufactured specially for the project.

“There isn’t enough call for that size of hardware that manufacturers make it and then it just sits on inventory, Koch said.

Kenai will not be required by DEC to inform its residents of the elevated arsenic until further testing can be done, said Cindy Christian, statewide compliance and monitoring manager for DEC.

“We’re working continuing to have them collect samples throughout the distribution system,” she said. “We’re not just kind of resting on our laurels, we’re continuing to work on the city and coming up with a good sampling plan.”

Kenai has been working to find a solution to arsenic in its water supply for several years, it drilled several exploratory wells and pilot tested an arsenic-removal treatment program before applying for an exemption to the EPA’s standards in 2006, according to Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation data.

While the new well has been delayed, Koch said he did not think the old wells — which required the permission of DEC to bring back online — would be in use for very long.

“It’s supposed to start raining on Sunday and if what the weather report shows is accurate then we’ll be able to stop using those wells,” he said.

Rashah McChesney can be reached at rashah.mcchesney@peninsulaclarion.com

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