For nearly 20 years since its installation, the City of Lancaster has had problems with Well 3, and there is no end in sight as the city will look at ways to deal with the latest problem, higher levels of radium than are allowed by state law.
When the Lancaster Common Council met Monday night for their regular meeting, they heard the latest about the problems with Well 3, which has been placed in reserve status since September 2012, only operating twice a quarter under guidelines from the state.
Looking to see if there is a fix, the city reduced the flow of the well by 20 percent, going from 1,100 gallons a minute to roughly 850 gallons a minute to see if that would reduce the radium levels.
“The first test was ok, and every other test went downhill after that,” Director of Public Works John Hauth said of the testing, where only two of five tests came in with levels below what is allowed.
With those test results, the well remains in reserve mode as the city now weighs what to do next.
Keeping the well in a reserve role means taxing the city’s two older wells, and leaves the city in a difficult spot if Well 2 were to go down for any reason.
Two decades of problems
This setback with Well 3 is just the latest in a series of problems the well has had since its installation 20 years ago.
In 1994-1995 when the well was installed, almost immediately it needed to be taken offline because of problems where the pump column failed, with fingerpointing taking place on whether something was improperly installed, or if the well was improperly pushed at the start.
After the initial issues were fixed, the well continued having problems that led to pump failures in 2001, 2004, 2007, and 2010. The pump at the well has been replaced every three years, instead of the typical 10-15 years, for a total cost of $174,109.
The reason for the pump failures was due to stray voltage, and the city worked with engineers, consultants, and Alliant Energy to come up with a way to reduce the issue. Over that time, crews worked to isolate the pump, including isolation gaskets, isolation hoses, and zinc anodes on the pump pipe column, and finally in 2011, a direct current decoupler.
Hauth said that it appeared that the decoupler had fixed the issue, but the city only had a year and a half of service with that until the radium issue popped up.
Potential fixes costly
If the city were to replace Well 3 with a new well, the estimated cost would be more than $1 million, so looking at less costly options is important to the council.
Hauth said that one option would be to clean out, pump out, and then test various sections of the well. The process would remove the current pump (which could be reviewed for stray voltage issues), clean and super chlorinate the well. The well would be inspected, and sections would be tested to see if the radium was coming from a certain section of the well. If an area was found to be the source, casing would be installed to close off that area.
This process is slow and expensive. Because the turnaround for radium testing is one month, it means this process will take months. In addition, the estimated cost of this process would be between $100,000 and $150,000.
The alternatives would be pricier. The city could add a water softening system, which would eliminate most of the radium, but could also cause corrosion to the city’s water lines. That would cost $1.8 million.
The city could also add a treatment facility using manganese, which would also take iron out of the water. That process is even more costly, estimated to be $2.2 million.
When it was online, Well 3 was the workhorse of the city’s water system. The newest well, at 1,100 gallons a minute, that is both more than Well 1 (constructed in 1948, rehabilitated in 2013, with a capacity of 650 gallons a minute), and Well 2 (constructed in 1966, with a capacity of 850 gallons a minute).
“Well 1 would not be able to meet daily demand on its own during peak times in the summer or other large demand,” Hauth said on Tuesday. “Well 2 can meet daily demand, but is pushed to the limit during the summer, which was part of the reason we built Well 3 in the first place.”
Members of the council wanted to hear about the study at the next meeting, so they could potentially bid out the work to move forward. “I think we should move forward with the study,” Bob Schmidt noted.