Warp Speed for More Water
HARLAN – Harlan water supply issues dating back decades will be addressed in the coming months and years as the Harlan Municipal Utilities looks forward to drilling new wells to serve the community.
Those words come from HMU Chief Executive Officer Ken Weber, who said last week the results of a recent engineering study outlining the water concerns isn’t necessarily new information, but puts an urgency on the situation.
“We’ve got some issues with our water system,” Weber admitted. “We’ve been working toward this for the last few years.
“We’re currently operating at about 85 percent of what we should be.”
McClure Engineering Company recently presented a study it conducted on HMU’s behalf that outlined the water challenges for the utility, as well as possible solutions.
Joseph Kellinger with McClure told the HMU Board of Trustees that the age of the wells is the main concern.
“Most of these wells were drilled back in the 60s and 70s, with the most recent being drilled in 1989,” Kellinger said. “The anticipated life cycle of a well is 30 years. So, that being said, all of HMU’s wells exceed the anticipated useful life. The average age of these wells is 51 years old.”
Weber said the age of the current wells does create some challenges. The older the well, the more sediment there is in the bottom. It generates something similar to a shell around the pump, and getting water out of the well becomes a challenge, Weber said.
“We’re still short as far as pumping capacity,” he said.
Weber said when he started with HMU in 2014 there was no well maintenance program, so that was one of the first things initiated.
“About four years ago we did start planning for our well water development program,” he said.
HMU contracted for a hydrological study to identify the best locations for future well development. The next step was to have McClure conduct its raw water development plan, which was reviewed by the HMU Board of Trustees late last month.
It was clear from the report that the water supply issue didn’t happen overnight. “This has been a problem the community has faced for probably the last 25 years,” said Weber. “It’s just never been dealt with.”
In the late 1990s and early 2000s it became evident that water was not being produced at the level of demand.
“So it’s an old problem….it’s just never been addressed before,” Weber said. “It’s been a production issue for a number of years, and it’s just been compounded now by the drought and other conditions we’re faced with.”
McClure says the current aquifer is adequate to meet the water needs of the community, but the infrastructure is what is dated.
“Things just deteriorate over time and they’re not as effective as they used to be,” said Kellinger. Lack of investment in the maintenance of the infrastructure played a role in the current situation, he added.
Weber said HMU has identified six current wells that are ripe for remediation and rehab that will boost water supply in the short term.
Long-term, HMU is looking at new well construction. The utility looks to obtain short and/or long-term financing through the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) and Drinking Water State Revolving Fund, and will begin a multi-year process for engineering and specifications and construction. Total costs could come close to $6 million.
Hopes are to construct two wells initially, with the likelihood of more. And in the meantime, Harlan residents should prepare for conservation measures.
Weber said HMU is likely to adopt this month Water Wise, an efficiency planning and water conservation plan for water and wastewater utilities through the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (IDNR).
Water conservation measures such as limited lawn watering and restrictions on pools, car washes and gardening aren’t out of the question.
The city also has one interruptible commercial client that could see its water supply cut by anywhere from 25 percent to entirely shut off if there is an extreme water event. “We’re looking at all options to come up with something that’s workable,” Weber said. “We will have limited water supply until we can get some new wells online.”
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