After what Harvard residents call years of providing cloudy, smelly, distasteful water, the well that supplies the unincorporated Latah County community may need to be drilled deeper.
Latah County Disaster Services Coordinator Mike Neelon said the well has struggled to produce enough water to fill the 65,000-gallon storage tank that supplies water to more than 250 Harvard residents and nearby households.
“They were concerned about running out of water for the town, basically on Sunday,” Neelon said.
The small town in north central Latah County is dependent on the same regional Columbia Basin basalt aquifer system that supplies drinking water to about 60,000 people on the Palouse. Water levels of Palouse-dependent aquifers are also on the decline.
Since Harvard’s well has not adequately recharged the storage tank, the Latah County commissioners signed an emergency declaration Monday for the Hoodoo Water and Sewer District in Harvard.
The emergency declaration allows the water district to work with other agencies, including the Idaho Water and Wastewater Agency Response Network, so residents can receive drinking water assistance.
Neelon said residents have access to water, which is still deemed safe to drink, but it is cloudy and discolored, likely from sediments drawn from the bottom of the tank.
Because of the cloudy water, agencies and businesses such as the Idaho Water and Wastewater Agency Response Network, Walmart and North 40 Outfitters have provided drinking water to affected residents.
Neelon said he was told 82 – which he believes means households – in Harvard and nearby are affected by the water shortage.
He said the cause of the problem is still under investigation, but it does not appear to be mechanical.
Neelon said a company will take a look at the well’s pumps and pipes today with the hope of learning more.
He said the well started losing water pressure last week. The district shut the water system off Sunday in an attempt to refill it after it was estimated the tank declined to 3 to 5 feet of water.
The water level held steady at 4 feet Tuesday.
“Sunday, everybody was afraid that it was going to dry up,” Neelon said. “That’s how low it was.”
He said the Idaho Water and Wastewater Agency Response Network determined there were no leaks in the well or the lines to residents and the pump is running efficiently, which ruled out anything mechanical.
“What they are looking at is to whether or not this is something that’s going on from the well down into the ground at this point, and that can either be a natural occurrence or other,” Neelon said.
He said the issue could be derived from the winter weather, a decline in the aquifer, mineral content blockage since the drinking water in the area has a high mineral content, or other reasons.
Neelon said the aquifer level can fluctuate from natural causes. Depending on what the problem is, one option is to drill the well deeper to take away the fluctuation effect, he said.
He said he hopes it is an easy blockage problem fix and not a low aquifer issue.
If it is an aquifer issue, Neelon said he is not sure if the problem will affect nearby aquifers.
He said the area has naturally producing wells and how they are drilled and what kind of rock is drilled helps determine the water flow rates.
He said the emergency declaration will be in effect for seven days and can be extended next week when it expires.
“Once they fix their flow rate, everything will go back to normal,” he said.
Marty Bruce, a Harvard resident for all but two years since 1974, said water has been an issue for years. She said she showers and washes dishes and clothes with the water but does not drink it.
Small particles appeared in the water from her bathtub Tuesday, which is normal, she said.
“It’s horrible,” Bruce said. “It’s horrible tasting. It has an odor.”
Troy Boyer, a Harvard resident for 25 years, said the Hoodoo Water and Sewer District is mismanaged and wishes the state would assume control.
“It’s just horribly mismanaged,” he said. “It’s not maintained.”
Boyer said the water looks like a “mud puddle” because of the recent issue. It typically tastes and smells bad, a great deal of bleach is added to it and there is commonly E. coli in it, he said.
Boyer said he is usually notified when E. coli is cleared from the water but rarely is warned the bacteria is in the water in the first place. He said he uses the water to wash clothes, for example, but buys bottled water to drink.
Vern White, another Harvard resident, said he has not noticed any more discoloration in the water than normal.
“It just never tastes good,” he said. “It’s not good quality water and we pay a heck of a price for it.”
Brandon Woodin, of Harvard, noticed his water has been a little cloudy the past few days, which is a change from the usual clear appearance.
“The water’s always had problems here, but it’s not cloudy usually,” Woodin said.
None of the four residents said they were notified of the water issue, but Boyer and Woodin heard about it through Facebook, the radio or word of mouth.
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