Eastsound Sewer and Water conducting more tests on freshly dug well in Highlands

The first well was a dry dust hole.

But the second one brought forth an abundance of water.

“When we first hit water, we were euphoric,” Eastsound Sewer and Water District commissioner Ed Sutton said.

ESWD dug the wells recently as part of its plan to provide water service to the Highlands neighborhood. In February 2008, voters in the Highlands approved annexation to the district. “Annexation” is the first step towards local ownership of the utility. It allows ESWD to explore the possibility of providing service by drilling a well, securing an easement, and applying to the state for water rights. The sewer commission was also expanded from three to five members in order to provide representation from the newly annexed area.

The Highlands' utilities are currently managed by Washington Water Services, a company that provides service to 300 Washington water systems. It is a subsidiary of California Water Service Group, the third largest investor-owned water utility in the country. Washington Water is also the utility company for Rosario, but those homes would not be served by the new system in the Highlands.

One of the district's first steps is to establish a well that produces enough high quality water for residents. Then it can apply for water rights from the Department of Ecology to legally provide service. Following that, homeowners will vote to officially transfer ownership of the Highlands water distribution system to ESWD.

The district spent $50,000 to dig the wells and conduct testing. At its board meeting on April 13, sewer commissioners went over results of the water quality study during a phone conference with Craig Russell of CR Hydrogeologic Consulting. Initial testing showed the water to be high in sodium, iron, manganese, and antimony. Russell said it is likely that the high numbers are due to the turbidity (haziness caused by individual particles) of the water.

“It's hard to get a good sample because it's a bedrock well,” he said. “The water could be stagnant. The levels could change once the well is pumped a lot. It could clear up these numbers.”

Russell said he couldn't pinpoint how old the water is, but high mineral content is often seen in water that has been sitting in bedrock for a long time.

The well produces in the 10 and 35 gallons a minute range, but Russell says it is most likely 25 gallons per minute.

“I can't promise anything,” he said. “We won't know for sure until we test it at that rate. Your chances are pretty good, but with a neighborhood of 109 units, it really helps to have another well.”

Commissioners say there are several residents willing to let the district use their wells as back-up. In June 2009, which is the peak demand month for water usage, homes in the Highlands used 14 gallons per minute.

At the meeting, the board was faced with either moving forward with the current well or starting the process over.

“It seems like we're right on the cusp,” Sutton said. “We don't want to invest big bucks if it's not going to bear fruit.”

Russell agreed.

“With these bedrock wells, each one is different,” he said. “My recommendation is to continue to pump it. It doesn't cost that much to do further testing.”

The board voted to retest new water samples after pumping at the 25 gallons per minute rate that will approximate actual operating conditions. If the chemical levels decrease, then the district will proceed with that well as its primary source.

Commissioner Carl Yurdin felt water quality was the determining factor.

“I would hedge our bets on the 25 gallons per minute estimate,” he said.

The board voted to move $15,000 from the general fund to pay for more testing, surveying of the well location (for an easement and road access), and finishing the water rights application. That money, plus the $60,000 already spent, is considered a loan. The funds will be paid back from future water revenue in the Highlands. The district's general fund is around $550,000.

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