By Paul Myers @PaulM_SGN
EXETER – Winter is quickly coming to a close with three quarters of February already past, and the lack of rainfall is becoming more and more concerning. During the Exeter City Council’s Feb. 13 meeting, public works director Daymon Qualls alerted council members of the difficult situation the city faces when it comes to groundwater.
“We are not seeing our static water level returning like it should and that’s very concerning,” Qualls said.
According to Qualls’ historical groundwater graph water levels were at a depth 71 feet in 1969 and have ebbed and flowed with a major dip between 1986 and 1999 where the lowest water level reached 93 feet at the end of 1992. A new low was hit in 2005 when levels were as low as 97 feet. And since 2012 considerable new lows have been hit every year. The city’s groundwater level significantly dropped from 82 feet in 2012, to 125 feet in 2017, and 138 feet this year. But water levels are only one of the issues facing the city.
Of the six wells the City has, the highest producing two are currently offline. Well 6 at Brick House Park would pump 1,130 gallons per minute (GPM), but has been afflicted with E. coli since July 2016. Qualls says the water from Well 6 is strictly off limits for use, and the City has tried every conventional way to treat it. Qualls recalled coming in contact with a company titled Water Change who made their way to the World Ag Expo last week and says they are capable of treating water using a new device. Qualls said he is interested in researching their work but there is still a ways to go before the well is deemed safe for consumption.
Well 13 located at Park Place on the corner of Belmont and Filbert is the City’s highest producing well with 1,500 GPM, but has been under repair since November. Qualls says he expects the well to come back online by mid-March. Unfortunately, from now until then, the City is relying on Well 11 located behind Save Mart pumping 1,050 GPM, Well 9 behind R-N Market pumping mps 790 GPM, Well 14 on North Filbert pumping 550 GPM and Well 12 located on North Kaweah pumping 250 GPM. In total, the City reduces their water pumping ability from 5,270 GPM to 2,640 GPM.
In order to meet the demand of city users, pumps work to fill the water tower, and turn on during peak hours in the morning and at night. In February, these issues are manageable but not ideal because pumps are working harder for longer, and eventually wear out. But the issue is much more drastic during summer.
“The summer months keep me up at night. I worry that there will be a point in the middle of the night where I’ll get a call that the system is overloaded,” Qualls said about summer usage. And his fears are well founded.
In 2013, peak water usage would reach 100 million gallons in the month of July; in 2014, usage dropped to around 92 million gallons in the same month. When the City Council instituted sharp cuts in watering days in 2015, usage dropped to below 70 million gallons for July before going up in 2016 to about 75 million gallons in the same month. In 2017, the council added a water day and water shot up to over 80 million in the month of July before peaking between 82 and 83 million in September. Qualls cautioned against the day change when it first came up last year because of the stress it places on the system.
Now, and since the drought began, running low on water during the summer has become all too routine for Exeter Public Works employees.
“I was very scared when they decided to change the watering days,” Qualls said. “We just know that on watering days during the summer months, we are going to get an alarm during the morning and at night.”
The alarm they hear comes from low levels at the water tower. Typically filled at 27 feet the water tower computer at its base will send an alert when levels reach 16 feet. Pumps from wells around the city will kick on in sequence to meet demand before refilling the tower. The water tower is challenged during peak hours in the morning and night all year long, but during fall and winter months it does not drop to alarm levels. It is only when peak hours along with watering days is the situation more dire.
Qualls said during the council meeting last week that the council should consider restricting watering days again as warmer months approach. But he also said a future fix should include water storage. Initial research has yet to identify how much water storage would be required to fulfill demand. As well, initial costs to provide storage range from $750,000 to $2.5 million, but Qualls says the cost should be refined as more information comes in from their engineering firm QK, Inc. (formerly Quad Knopf).