The Pine Strawberry Water Improvement District governing board on Dec. 15 laid plans to find solutions to the turbidity glitches that have plagued the Milk Ranch wells since they were drilled.
The board has identified three options; hire a hydrologist to figure out where the sand comes from, install a filtration system or abandon two of the three Milk Ranch wells and drill a new well.
Each plan comes with a different cost.
The board’s minutes laid out the costs; “The cheapest is to hire a hydrologist to determine where the sand is coming from in the wells for $75,000-$100,000. The next option is treating the water at a cost of $300,000-$600,000, or abandoning wells I and II and re-drilling a well at a cost of $300,000-$500,000.”
Maher Hazine, treasurer of the board, said the board has not made a final decision.
“His (PSWID engineer) recommendation is to get a hydrologist,” said Hazine. “That doesn’t mean we will hire a hydrologist.”
Hazine said a hydrologist would be able to drop a camera into the wells. He would observe while the pumps run to see the source of the sand.
The filtration system option has its own problems, said Hazine.
“With a treatment system we might have ongoing costs — electricity and filtration requires maintenance,” said Hazine.
Hazine said a hydrologist would also be able to help determine if drilling another well is a reasonable option based on the conditions of the current wells and geology.
Hazine said the board will discuss these options further at the Jan. 19 meeting.
Whatever the board decides, “We will always go back to the public,” he said.
The Milk Ranch well system has been plagued with challenges since it was drilled.
Max Foster, in 2006 covered the Sept. 25 discovery of water in Pine on land owned by Ray Pugel and Robert Randall.
Foster met with Pugel and hydrogeologist Mike Plough at the Milk Ranch Well site behind what is now Pine Hardware.
“Plough said the key to finding water was to drill deeper than ever before, possibly to about 1,200 feet,” said Foster.
Pugel reported that at 1,045 feet the hole produced so much water they had to stop drilling.
When Foster tasted the water on that first day, it was sandy and gritty. Gila County Supervisor Tommie Martin visited the Milk Ranch Well the next week and also noticed sand and grit in the water.
“During her visit, Martin did laud the discovery of water saying it ended a long-held myth that there was no water in Pine,” said Foster.
The discovery of water prompted the Pine Strawberry Water Improvement District to buy the system from Robert Hardcastle. That ended a nine-year moratorium on building any new homes or businesses.
The discovery of a deep source of water led to the end of water shortages, outages and rationing that had previously dogged users in Pine and Strawberry, said Foster.
In January of 2011, the PSWID board agreed to purchase the well from Pugel and Randall for $400,000, without commissioning an appraisal. Included in the deal, were 50 residential and two commercial water meter hookups now in place at the Pine Creek Resort. Usually water meter hookups cost more than a $1,000 apiece.
Just months after the purchase, the district opted to drill Milk Ranch II on land PSWID owned just 700 feet from Milk Ranch I.
The purchase of Milk Ranch I and drilling of MR II, however, led to debate about silty water and a long string of expensive repairs and turbidity issues. The Roundup has written extensively over the years about this topic.
Immediately after the $400,000 purchase, the board members discovered it would cost $246,309 to hook the well up to the system, which included replacing a burned out pump. Estimates at the time suggested the total cost of the well would turn out to be perhaps $1 million.
In August of 2012, PSWID water users complained when pump failures at the wells led to a five-day water outage. Later, about 30 distraught PSWID customers confronted board members to complain about rising water rates for water that was turbid, sandy and sometimes undrinkable.
Board chairman Gary Lovetro said the district didn’t know the cause of the turbidity, but insisted the water quality posed no health threat.
Jessica Barnett and Laura Miranda, whose father Tom Weeks owns Pine Ice, countered by holding up a bag of brown ice.
About a year later, the board took steps to correct the problems by agreeing to spend $46,000 for a sensor to divert murky water from the well.
The sensor met with mixed results.
Just nine months earlier, PSWID spent $32,000 to add filtration to the pump.
Despite the thousands of dollars that have been allocated to the wells, the sand, sediment and turbidity problems continue to gnaw at PSWID customers.