Milk Ranch Well Needs Filter After All

Pine-Strawberry water district hopes to curb problems with sand, turbidity

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The Pine Strawberry Water Improvement District governing board has unanimously approved spending $32,000 to add a filtration system to the Milk Ranch No. 1 well site.

The board on Feb. 28 approved the measure to try to solve a turbid water problem linked to that well.

The vote represented a board reversal on an issue that has roiled the district for years. The controversy over the quality of the water pumped out of the well peaked during a Nov. 15 PSWID board meeting when 30 water users demanded an explanation for the sometimes-sandy and undrinkable water. Then-board president Gary Lovetro insisted the murky water posed no threat to human health.

Also at the Nov. 15 meeting, PSWID District Manager Brad Cole told the audience that the well began producing turbid water in October 2012, which prompted officials to stop sending water into the distribution system.

Cole runs the district under terms of a contract with CH2M Hill, a consulting firm.

Cole offered several solutions to the problem, including installing filtration and turbidity meters and control valves to divert water should it turn brown again.

Board members eventually settled on filtration, after a test run. During the test run, the district will rent the filters for $533 per week, with rental payments applied to the final purchase price.

The quality of the water coming out of Milk Ranch has spurred controversy since the well was drilled in 2006. Several pumps at the site have burned out, probably due to sand in the water. Grit in the water may have also played a role in the June of 2012 outage.

Well developer Ray Pugel, now the PSWID president, had previously defended the quality of the water, which prompted former board president Bill Haney to argue, “The people of Pine will never settle for Third World quality water.” Back in 2010, PSWID’s former engineering firm Tetra Tech recommended a filter for the well water. But Tetra Tech withdrew as PSWID’s engineering firm after former board member Mike Greer at a May 26, 2010 board meeting accused the firm of, “creating obstacles, roadblocks, issues and expenses” to purchasing Milk Ranch and another at Strawberry Hollow.

Water for Pine Strawberry spokesperson Pam Mason said board members should have heeded Tetra Tech’s original advice. “Had cooler heads prevailed we might not have had to pay for numerous pumps, motors burning out and an additional $174,000 for the water outage in June of last year,” she said.

While no timetable has been set for installing the new filtration system, the testing is expected to start soon.

Also at the Feb. 28 meeting, board member Sam Schwalm gave a PowerPoint presentation that centered on joining forces with several agencies that provide support for small water districts like PSWID.

Schwalm recommended PSWID make a pact with ADEQ Technical Services to conduct a free system evaluation. “There is an independent set of eyes looking at the strengths and weaknesses of the (PSWID) system so they may see something that we have missed.”

Also, he added, “Government agencies that award grants are much more likely to provide grants for issues that have been identified in the system evaluation.”

Schwalm also recommend association with Water Infrastructure Finance Authority (WIFA) for replacement financing since the district has a loan that rolls over in six years.

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