Kingston discusses recent water contamination
by Jason Lowrey
Jan 29, 2013 | 1444 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
In response to the city’s recent water contamination, the Kingston City Council held a called meeting Monday night to discuss what to do with the contaminated Dawson Street well and how the city should react to similar emergencies in the future.

Mayor Ron Casey started the meeting by emphasizing the city’s water was safe to drink.

“First of all, let’s make it absolutely clear that the water system is OK. There are no contaminants in our system. We do have a well which is not functioning properly, which is at the moment contaminated,” he said. “That well is not being used at all and will lay idle as to such time that the government tells us it has passed the test.

“The problem with the Dawson Street well is, in my mind, if it gets contaminated one time it will get contaminated a second time or third time. Finding the source of that contamination will be a very helpful thing. Now, how you do that I don’t know. If the well turns out that it’s just not usable and we have to shut it down permanently, what do we do?”

With the Dawson Street well down, the city is relying on its sole remaining well — the 97-year-old well on Railroad Street. According to Water Operator Billy Baker, the Railroad Street well has probably been running constantly since the Dawson Street well was turned off Jan. 17.

The Railroad Street well is clean, Baker said, as is the rest of the water system.

“To my knowledge, with all the testing we’ve done, none of this bad water from Dawson Street well got into the distribution system,” he said.

The city treats its water with sodium hypochlorite, which Baker said did its job and kept the E. coli and fecal coliform out of the water.

“I feel comfortable saying that the [disinfectant] we put in the water done its job. ... I think the [disinfectant] took care of it. If that had gotten in the distribution system, I believe we would have picked it up somewhere,” he said.

To clear out the Dawson Street well, Baker said he had “shocked” it by pouring additional bleach into the well and flushing it constantly. As of Monday night’s meeting, Baker added, 700,000 gallons had been flushed out of the well.

He said he will know at 1 p.m. today if the treatment cleared the well, as a sample had been sent for testing.

However, Baker was unable to answer Casey’s question of how long the Railroad Street well might last. On Jan. 20 Baker measured the water level at 73 feet from the top of the casing to the top of the water. On Jan. 28 it was at 80 feet. As a precation, he continued, he had already spoken with Bartow County Water Department and told them Kingston may need to buy water from the county.

The question of how long Kingston may need to rely on one well, or buy county water, was difficult to answer, according to City Engineer John Sweitzer. He said the city may never know what caused the contamination, as the geography of the well’s location could contribute to an incident of surface water getting into the well.

“But wells in this limestone are subject to this type of contamination, which is related to wet weather. The more water you have on the surface, the more pressure the surface water puts on the lower water. All of it was, at one time, surface water. It can get down and contaminate a well,” Sweitzer said.

However, he and Baker both believed the well could be saved and the council should not yet consider abandoning it.

“It’s a good well. Heretofore we did not know of any problems with it, but as the mayor said, we have no assurance that this won’t happen again,” Sweitzer said. “So my recommendation would be we definitely need to be thinking in terms of upgrading that filter with a different type of cartridge.”

In addition to the chlorine system, Kingston’s wells have a large cartridge filter positioned to clean the water after it comes out of the well. Sweitzer said this system could be upgraded with finer filters designed to catch bacteria such as E. coli. Such a filter system clear the water to Environmental Protection Division standards.

However, he also recommended the council consider using a detention chamber to help purify the water. Such a chamber holds the water for a set period so the chlorine content drops to an appropriate level for consumption. Rather than using a large tank, Sweitzer said a large, long pipe could be buried underground to act a detention chamber.

These improvements, he added, could be financed through the city’s U.S. Department of Agriculture loan. Sweitzer said he called the USDA representative and asked if the loan dollars could be spent on improving the wells. So long as part of the water utility improvements are removed from the proposal to compensate for the well repairs, Sweitzer said the USDA was open to adding the wells to the project.

It could be up to three months before the city can decide what to do with the well, Sweitzer said. However, he believed there was one good aspect to the incident.

“If [Baker] hadn’t gotten that bad sample, we would now not be aware that there is a contaminated well and the only thing between us and that is the chlorination system,” he said.

Casey then asked the council to consider hiring a company to provide automatic phone calls on behalf of Kingston in the event of an emergency. He said it was a necessary expense, as the city must be able to inform its citizens during a similar contamination, or a natural or man-made disaster.

However, Casey could not provide any pricing options listed beyond one service for $199 per month. He said the council should look into other services and find out if the county had an automatic phone call service of its own.

During the public participation period of the meeting one resident, Larry Posey, asked the council to consider the potential cost of the USDA grant in terms of water rates. He said he did not want the rates to rise too high or the city to exceed its water revenues and overspend.

The council then expressed surprise that only one person came forward to talk about the water utility issues.

Other council business included going into executive session to discuss personnel issues. No decisions were made.

The Kingston City Council’s next meeting is scheduled for Feb. 4 at 7 p.m. at city hall.