The Pine Strawberry Water Improvement District last week approved installation of sensors and a bypass valve to prevent two crucial wells from ever pumping murky, gritty water into the system.
The board approved taking $46,000 out of the district’s contingency fund to put the sensor system on Milk Ranch Wells 1 and 2, cancelling the previously approved $40,000 filter for Milk Ranch Well 1.
District Manager Brad Cole recommended the shift, saying a sensor that would immediately divert murky water coming out of the well into a nearby wash would solve any future problems.
The action represented one of the final actions of the board before the surprise resignation of five of the seven board members on Saturday in the face of an effort to recall four of the five.
Milk Ranch Well 1 has played a crucial role in the history of the water district, which bought out Brooke Utilities. The buyout and the acquisition of the Milk Ranch Wells helped end a decade-long building moratorium, water rationing and sky-high summer water hauling charges.
Realtor Ray Pugel and a partner lay the groundwork for that revolution when they drilled the Milk Ranch Well 1 and found water down nearly 1,000 feet, finally proving the existence of a deep water table. Previously, Brooke Utilities had relied on shallow wells that couldn’t keep up with demand in the summer.
The district ultimately bought Milk Ranch Well 1 from Pugel for $400,000. The district also included in the deal 50 residential and two commercial water meters along with rights to hook up properties to the system, which normally cost about $3,500 each. The district also drilled two nearby wells on land it already owned for about $160,000 each. Those wells were 800 feet deep and had smaller casings than the original Milk Ranch Well.
Milk Ranch Well 1 could pump as much as 200 gallons per minute. However, after at high rates of pumping, the well sucked up sand and mud, spurring widespread customer complaints.
Subsequent testing showed little problem with silty water below pump rates of about 75 gallons per minute. The board initially approved a plan to put a $40,000, 10-micron filter on the well.
However, subsequent analysis suggested the proposed filter wouldn’t actually remove the particles causing the murky water, said Cole. Instead, he recommended installing sensors connected to a diversion system. He recommended the board spend $23,000 to outfit Milk Ranch 1, although he said he doubted the well would cause any problems so long as output remained below 85 gallons per minute. Currently, Milk Ranch 1 produces about 50 gallons a minute and MR2 about 45 gallons per minute.
Board members wondered whether the district ought to put the sensors and bypass valves on all three Milk Ranch Wells, including Milk Ranch 3, which isn’t yet completed.
Cole estimated outfitting all three wells would cost about $80,000.
“Do we think that MR2 and MR3 will have these kinds of turbidity events?” asked board member Sam Schwalm.
“”Even MR1 may never have an event again,” said Cole.
“It’s our responsibility not to deliver dirty water to our customers. (The three wells) are pretty close and pumping from the same formation. I don’t think we should wait until there’s a problem,” replied Schwalm.
That triggered a board discussion about whether the sensors and bypass would allow the district to sometimes run the wells at something much closer to their full capacity. However, Cole said the district should limit the pumping rate at all three wells.
Ray Pugel, board chairman until his resignation on Saturday, agreed. “Wells have a sweet spot,” he said, based on the nature of the underground formations storing the water they pump. “If you’re running at 45 (gpm) and jerk it up, then you can get sand in everything.”
Board member Richard Dickinson said, “When you kick up that output you increase turbidity. Let’s not shoot ourselves in the foot. Let’s proceed cautiously.”
After some additional discussion, the board agreed to put sensors on both MR1 and MR2, which would cost about $6,000 more than they’d already approved for a filter on MR1. They agreed to defer putting sensors on MR3 until they get into the next budget year, to avoid depleting the dwindling $400,000 contingency fund.