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It's official: Nitrate levels close well

A new deep water well being constructed in Park Rapids is expected to be operational soon. Once the well is up and running the water will be blended with the city's other shallow wells. (Anna Erickson / Enterprise)

With another well sealed off due to high nitrate levels, the Park Rapids City Council is considering a watering ban if it becomes necessary.

"One of our production wells, the nitrate levels went up above the maximum contaminant level," said city administrator Bill Smith. "A confirmation sample was taken and came back above so we'll have to seal off that well. With just two production wells remaining, that will tax our system to provide the water quantity that we usually do."

The closing of well eight comes about a year after another well was taken offline for high nitrate levels. Both were shallow wells.

The ban most likely won't be needed if well eight comes online in the next week as expected.

"We might be able to avoid the ban but we would like to get authorization to put the ban in place if we need to," Smith said.

In the summer, water usage typically increases because of people watering lawns and gardens.

"We don't anticipate that we're going to need it but it's a possibility," said public works director Scott Burlingame. "Even though we feel we can get well eight online Friday, there are things that could stop that."

Originally, the well was scheduled to go online in July.

High nitrate levels have been an issue in Park Rapids for years. The culprit is nitrogen fertilizer that was used on agricultural fields. Although practices have changed, Smith said it takes about 10 years for the nitrates to reach the drinking water.

The city council decided to prepare for the possibility of a watering ban just in case.

"If we need it, we should encourage our folks to be conservative in their water usage as much as possible," said Mayor Nancy Carroll.

If a watering/irrigation ban is enacted in the city of Park Rapids, water customers who have been notified of a violation could receive a fine of $50 for a second violation. A third violation would result in the public works department disconnecting the service at the street until the resident agrees to comply with the restrictions.

"We thought ahead on this as best we could but we just have a timing issue," said councilman Dave W. Konshok.

At this point, the ban will not happen unless the new well doesn't come online as scheduled.

In response to the city's ongoing water issues, the council is also considering an engineering study to research the long-term water supply.

"We've got a new well coming online to production and we're going to take a blended approach. We're going to blend the shallow wells with the deeper wells," said city engineer Jon Olson. "We're pretty certain it's going to give us a good water supply here for the short term."

But looking at the next few years down the road, Olson said the nitrates are still increasing in the shallow wells.

"At some point our blending option becomes less effective," he said. "As we start pumping the new well, well number eight, we're going to monitor it, see how that aquifer is behaving here."

Olson would like to see a long-term road map for the city's water supply.

"Something that really lays it out on paper and is well defined as to how we're going to continue to ensure that we're able to provide good, safe, quality drinking water in the city," Olson said.

"We have a wellhead protection plan. How is this different?" Carroll asked.

Burlingame said the wellhead protection plan is for existing wells and how to keep those wells in operation.

There has been some discussion among the staff about whether the city should hire a professional to look at this issue, Smith said.

"Getting somebody involved in the study who has some expertise in the ground water, getting an expert hydrologist is critical," Olson said.

City staff members were directed to get more information about hiring someone to work on a long-term plan and figure out some costs associated with that.

Anna Erickson
Anna Erickson is editor of the Wadena Pioneer Journal.
(218) 631-2561