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Geology poses problem for Fall Creek well

One was closed due to high nitrate levels

posted Aug. 12, 2017 12:00 a.m. (CDT)
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by / Elizabeth Dohms. bio | email

A municipal well in Fall Creek taken out of service because of high nitrate levels could be replaced by two smaller wells as early as next year. The projected cost would be close to $1 million.

The village is working on a plan to increase from one the number of wells serving its population of about 1,300, village President Chester Goodman said. A second well was shut down about a year ago after high nitrate levels were detected in the water supply. 

“At this point, we have one source of water,” Goodman said, noting that municipalities should always have a backup source in case something would go wrong with the main supply.

Nitrates are especially dangerous to infants and can cause a disease known as blue baby syndrome, said Shane Sanderson, director of environmental health at the Eau Claire City-County Health Department.

While the village’s well is still producing more than enough water, sites were tested earlier this year by Davy Engineering of La Crosse for potential future wells that would offset the production lost by the closure of the second well and serve as a backup. 

Two smaller wells would be ideal because the rock formations in Fall Creek don’t produce as much water nearly as quickly as desired, said Davy project engineer Jim Kochie.

Geology also is appearing to play a part in the high nitrate levels in the second well. 

Because it’s located inside a sandstone formation that is surrounded by fissures or cracks, groundwater is steered directly into the well, Kochie said. 

If the groundwater contains nitrates, which are commonly linked to fertilizers and manure, those nitrates are fed into a common source. Nitrates occur naturally, at about 2 or 3 parts per million, Sanderson said. 

Quarterly testing by the Health Department since March 2015 found average levels of 7 parts per million. The department considers anything higher than 10 to be a health risk requiring attention.

Sanderson said it can be up to municipalities to determine whether to shut down a well that’s producing fewer than 10 parts per million.

Options for repairing the well, such as re-casing it to seal off the fissured area, were investigated but determined to be insufficient.

“By re-casing it, we’re afraid we’d reduce the capacity down to where we don’t have enough water coming out of that well to make it worthwhile,” Kochie said. 

“Long-term, we feel if they can find good quality water without nitrates or lower nitrates, they’d be better off than trying to fix the existing one.”

The plan for two smaller wells awaits approval from the state Department of Natural Resources. Once that’s approved, bids for the project could be sent out this fall, with expected completion of a well and pump house by the end of next year, Kochie said. 

Contact: 715-833-9206, elizabeth.dohms@ecpc.com, @EDohms_LT on Twitter