All is not well with Exeter's well water

By Reggie Ellis

At its Dec. 14 meeting, the Exeter City Council appropriated $23,000 for drilling a test well to ensure the city has enough wells pumping good quality drinking water.

Public Works Director Felix Ortiz reported that two city wells were approaching a level of pesticide concentration that does not meet the state's standards for drinking water. If the city is forced to shut down the two wells, it may cause a water shortage in the city during peak water use months in the summer down the road. Ortiz said it was important to start the process of drilling new wells, which normally takes about six months.

But just as two wells are testing for higher pesticide levels, one of the city's most productive wells may be coming back online and a new well will be completed sometime in January.

One of the city's well has been shut down since November 2003 for high pesticide levels. At the May 27 Exeter City Council meeting, Ortiz said the well's average monthly DBCP levels were above the state's Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL). Another well was shut off for DBCP 20 years ago.

DBCP, or Dibromochloropropane, was used primarily to kill parasitic worms in soybean cotton, vineyards, tomatoes and tree fruit crops, according to the California Department of Health Services. People who drink water with high DBCP levels for many years may experience reproductive difficulties and may have an increased risk of cancer. California Environmental Protection Agency has set the MCL at 0.2 parts per billion, or a microgram per liter. The city's well tested at 0.33 ppb between August and December 2003 for a sixth-month average of 0.27, well over the MCL.

The City of Exeter sent a letter to residents announcing that well E06W had a high concentration of a banned pesticide. However, it has never affected drinking water. Ortiz said that well is now testing at lower levels and may drop low enough before summer time. E06W is the second largest capacity well, pumping 1,200 gallons per minute. He said the city's newest well will only pump 350 gallons per minute.

Ortiz said even if E06W comes back online, the city will have to drill new wells to meet the demand of an increasing population. New wells would have to be dug deeper than the pesticide levels with a seal to prevent any contamination.

"Dinuba has had a lot of success drilling all of their wells deeper than [the standard] 300-450 feet," Ortiz said.

Councilman Joe Bombgardner asked if existing wells could be dug deeper.

"You can't remove the gravel and casings that are poured into the hole," said City Engineer Chuck Sanford. "It is cheaper to drill a new well."

Ortiz said a new well in the Citrus Crest subdivision should be operational sometime in January. He also said there is already a site in the Valencia Village subdivision that has been designated for a future well. The city currently has three wells in operation. Ortiz said a new well costs $75,000 on average. He said the city may be able to get funding assistance through Proposition 50.

Prop. 50 was a statewide $4.3 billion bond measure known as the Water Security, Clean Drinking Water, Coastal and Beach Protection Act passed in 2002. A portion of that money, about $100 million, was set aside for competitive grants to protect drinking water and prevent water contamination.

Consumers wanting more information should contact the City of Exeter at 592-3710 or the State Department of Health Services at 447-3300.

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