Efforts to fix a malfunctioning well in the Village of DeForest have not worked.
On Tuesday, July 16, the DeForest Village Board debated two options: building a treatment facility onto South Utility Well No. 5 or interconnecting the north and south water systems, while abandoning the well.
The village has been trying to reduce radium levels in the well.
The board unanimously approved engaging impacted property owners about the purchase of easements that would allow the interconnection to take place at that July 16 meeting. They also supported submitting a plan to DNR to interconnect north and south water systems leading to the eventual abandonment of Well 5, as well advancing design and Public Service Commission application.
“It’s time to move on,” said Public Services Director Kelli Bialkowski. “We need to do something differently with this well.”
Dr. Andrew Jacque, chief scientist and founder of Water Quality Investigations in Mount Horeb, addressed the problem with the board.
“Radium levels in Well 5 right now are not an acute risk, so there’s no need to shut it down,” said Dr. Jacque. “I know there are some communities in the state that have had an acute closure by the DNR. We’re not at that point. We don’t have that issue.”
Used for both fire protection and water consumption, the well has had a problem with keeping out biofilm, which releases the radium. Jacque assured trustees that there is no immediate risk from the radium. It is commonly accepted that it only becomes a health issue with lifetime exposure to it. At high levels, radium is a carcinogen.
A draft memo is being worked on that will be sent to the Department of Natural Resources. The well was in compliance with its standards, but has fallen back out of compliance. Jacque said the village has three years to remedy the situation.
“Technically, the clock starts anew,” said Jacque.
If the village goes with the interconnection, it would need to rehabilitate Well No. 1 and make sure it’s in good condition, said Jacque. Well 1 and 5 both serve the DeForest South Water Utility, The village could either minimize the use of Well No. 5 or stop using it altogether.
“The community could make that decision that we don’t want to use this water,” said Jacque. “Even though it meets the requirements and we have this time window to make this remedy, you can say we’re not going to use this except for fire. And I would fully support that, as long as we can make sure that water is safe.”
Village Attorney Al Reuter feels the DNR will give the village the time it needs to rectify the situation. Committing to the interconnection could help.
“The DNR is looking for a plan,” said Reuter. “They’re looking for us to tell them what we plan to do. If we tell them we’re going forward with this interconnect, I’m confident they will give us a reasonable period of time to get that done.”
Reuter added that it would take years to build a treatment plant.
“There’s nothing that can be done immediately, other than shutting the well down, which isn’t going to work,” said Reuter. “So, I’m pretty confident we’ll get the time we need to do the interconnect.”
Jacque said the DNR could give the village some leeway if it wanted to build a treatment plant there in planning for future growth.
“The DNR doesn’t like to see a well just kept for that future purpose,” said Jacque. “They’d like to see it used or abandoned, but there are communities that have done that. So let’s say, you have this infrastructure already in place, planning for growth in the community, because years from now you’re going to need more capacity. You could keep it safe up until that point and not use it other than for fire, then go and do your $2 million investment for a treatment plant. So, instead of building a $4 million well with treatment, it’s $2 million in today’s dollars.”
Village Administrator Steve Fahlgren wondered if it would be better to have the price tag for the interconnection ready before talking to nearby residents.
Trustee Jason Kramar said, “I don’t know if it’s worth going forward with the plan until we get the easements. Can’t snake around property owners. Doesn’t work.”
Trustee Jeff Miller feels it’s time to get this matter solved. “I was kind of dreading this day,” said Miller. “It is what it is. I’m for interconnection. We’ve got to move on and get that done.”