The search for a solution to Kenai's water woes continues this summer in the form of a new exploratory test well on Van Antwerp Street off Bridge Access Road.
Drilling for the well began in late March, and water testing has since begun. It is hoped the test well will prove to be economical enough to be made into a production well, which would greatly help in solving Kenai's water situation.
Kenai has three operating water wells along the Kenai Spur Highway on the east end of town. All three wells feed into a single water main that services 95 percent of Kenai's population.
During the dry months of June, July and August, several factors, like the distance the water travels and friction in the pipe, make it difficult for the water main to transport enough water to meet the city's needs. Increased water use from people washing cars, watering lawns, etc., in the summer daytime hours depletes the water reserves faster than well pumps can keep up, which results in low water flow and pressure.
A fourth well pumping water into the system at a different location would help solve this problem.
"The real clutch is getting more water into the system," said Keith Kornelis, Kenai's public works manager. "We just can't get enough water through the line. (A new well) would help that tremendously."
The search for a new well site has been an ongoing saga for the city fraught with environmental concerns and economic constraints. The city conducted a water study and came up with several possible well sites. The site with the highest probability of good water is located in a wetlands area north of another well. The water quality may be good, but a pipeline would have to be built through environmentally sensitive areas, which would be expensive and require a permitting process, Kornelis said.
A second possible site is at the ends of Lawton Drive and Swires Street. A test well was drilled at the site, but the results were less than heartening.
"The quality wasn't good enough and the amount of water we weren't sure about," Kornelis said.
Water quality testing on the site revealed high levels of iron and arsenic, which is considered a primary contaminant and a major health risk. The Environmental Protection Agency implemented regulations in November requiring municipalities to reduce the level of arsenic in its water supply to 10 parts per billion, as opposed to the old regulation of 50 ppb. The arsenic levels in the Lawton-Swires test well were above the new limit.
Testing on that well was curtailed, so work on the Bridge Access site could begin. The city has an arrangement with Dick Morgan, the owner of the 5.5-acre property the new test well is located on, to allow drilling. If the city finds a sufficient quantity of quality water at the site, it will purchase the triangle-shaped property for $40,000 and locate the production well in the center of it. The amount is higher than the property's borough-assessed value of $22,700, but the price would be right if the well turns out to be usable.
"If we find good water, then it's going to make it well worth it for the city," Kornelis said.
The test well has been drilled and water samples have been taken. The well has been pumped for a 24-hour period to see if the quantity of water remains consistent and to see if water contaminants change over time.
So far no primary contaminants have shown up in testing, but there is a problem with the level of total dissolved solids in the water, which makes the water hard and causes it to leave deposits.
"The total dissolved solids (level) is really bad," Kornelis said. "It's up there. That's probably the worst thing bothering us. One of the problems is it's very expensive to treat."
Kornelis said the water has a baking soda taste, which is probably due to the high level of dissolved solids.
The test well is drilled through three different aquifers. Engineers are looking into the possibility of mixing water from two of the aquifers to see if it improves the water's quality. Kornelis said they also want to do a 72-hour continuous pump test.
At this point it is too soon to tell whether the well will be usable, Kornelis said. Once testing is completed, the city will have to decide whether it is more economical to treat the water at the Bridge Access site or the Lawton-Swires site. If neither prove feasible, the city will have to find another location to test.
In the meantime, Kornelis said Kenai residents can help the city and themselves by conserving water during the summer.
"The city would request that residents try to water their lawns in the evening hours and make sure they're not wasting water," he said. "If they could just be more conservative with their water and watch their sprinklers, it's going to be a big help."
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