FYI, troubling news in Cedar Key this week.
Cedar Key wells suffer saltwater intrusion
Citrus County Chronicle
Thursday, June 21, 2012
Lou Elliott Jones
CEDAR KEY — The almost 800 residents of this island town lined up Wednesday afternoon to receive a daily ration of two gallons per person of drinking water after the Cedar Key Water and Sewer District announced saltwater intrusion into all three city wells had rendered tap water undrinkable.
The situation — which the water board first became aware of on May 28 — was announced publicly Tuesday in an afternoon water district board meeting and later at a City Commission meeting. During the meeting it was revealed that the city’s water was almost three times the allowable limit for sodium and had been rising since it was first discovered.
In an emergency planning meeting Wednesday afternoon, David Beach, water board chairman, said residents would be supplied with bottled water purchased by him and a donation of 9,600 gallons of water donated by Nestle Waters N.A. Deer Park brand.
The water arrived about 3 p.m. after a media briefing at the district offices and before a private planning session was held by emergency management, city,county and state officials.
Residents lined up in golf carts and vehicles and presented their paperwork — a water bill, a room receipt or a storm re-entry pass — to receive two gallons of bottled water. That’s the daily allowance the district is providing for drinking and cooking.
Beach said city water can be used for washing dishes and clothes, but it should not be used for human consumption as it poses a risk for those who must limit their sodium intake, expectant and new mothers and those with compromised health.
He said he is working with the state Department of Environmental Protection, the Suwannee River Water Management District and emergency management to come up with a solution. For the time being he is looking at possibly renting reverse osmosis equipment which could remove the salt from the water, but there will be water distribution and possibly placement of water-filled tanker trucks in the city for residents to use.
On Tuesday, Beach said measurements taken from the city’s No. 4 well on Monday were at 730 milligrams per liter (mpl), almost three times the allowable standard of 250 mpl.
“We have an unfortunate situation right now we feel is because of the drought ...” Beach said.
The District has been monitoring the situation for about two weeks, Beach said, and each day the situation has gotten worse. The city’s No. 3 well was, at one point, measured at 368 mpl, and the No. 2 well, which he said the district had hoped to use as a backup, was “worse than 3 and 4.”
“The last two or three days ... there has been a drastic increase and change in quality,” Beach said, adding that agencies such as the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the Suwannee River Water Management District and the Florida Rural Water Association had all been contacted and were being consulted.
Chief Robert Robinson advised the city be put on a red alert to get the word out as soon as possible and also suggested using Facebook.
Beach said salt in the water is not a health concern from a bacteriological standpoint, but he stressed the need not to consume city water. He also asked that people do their best to conserve water.
Beach said he didn’t know how long it will be until the problem is fixed. The only solution at this point, he said, was converting the city’s water system to one that uses nano-filtration or reverse osmosis to remove the salt, but, he added, knowing what type of system to get depends on getting a better idea of where the salt measurements begin to level off. So far, salinity has gotten stronger each day.
“This problem will not get better,” he said. “It will get worse, unless it starts raining 40 days and 40 nights and you dam up the Suwannee River.”
Looking toward the future, Beach said the solution may involve constructing a new well head farther inland, away from the salt-contaminated portions of the aquifer closer to sea.
Pat and Cindy Bonish, owners of Low Key Hideaway, a motel and bar on the island, both said they were concerned about how the lack of potable water would affect their business.
“People might cancel their reservations if they see a sign that says: Don’t drink the water,” Pat Bonish said.
Beach said officials would do their best to provide water for such businesses.
After the meeting, Cindy Bonish said she first noticed the problem of salt in the water Thursday, saying the water tasted like something one would gargle with.
She also said it’s a shame that it takes such situations to get people serious about water conservation.
Former Cedar Key Mayor and current SRWMD board member Heath Davis was also at the meeting. When asked it saltwater intrusion in Cedar Key’s well field might prompt the water district to curb consumptive use permits, he said, “No, those (CUPs) are based on science.”
For more information on what the CKWSD’s plans are, visit its website at ckwater.org.
Mark Scohier is a staff writer and Lou Elliott Jones is the editor of the Chiefland Citizen.