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Canyon Elementary's new well pays off

by CHANSE WATSON
Managing Editor | June 11, 2021 7:00 AM

CATALDO - The students and staff of Canyon Elementary School needn't worry about their recent arsenic issues for the foreseeable future, as a new water well drilled near the school has tested within acceptable levels for the pesky element.

In the summer of 2020, the Kellogg School District was in a bit of a pickle when the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality made them aware of high levels of arsenic in Canyon Elementary's drinking water.

Arsenic is a naturally occurring element found in the Earth’s crust that can be released into the environment through natural activities such as volcanic action, erosion of rocks and forest fires, or through human activities such as pesticide application, improper disposal of arsenic-containing waste chemicals, agricultural applications, mining and smelting.

Based on the Environmental Protection Agency's recommendation, IDEQ sets their maximum contaminant level for arsenic in drinking water at 10 parts per billion. Following multiple tests on the school's old water well in 2019 and 2020, Canyon's drinking water was consistently showing over the maximum contaminant level- with one test showing as high as 13.5 ppb.

Following months of debate and putting the project out for bid, the Kellogg School Board decided to give the green light to the drilling of a new well in March of 2021. By mid-April 15, a new hole in the ground was present on the school's north side.

The first drilling attempt went down 200 feet and actually didn't find any water. When it was approved by the board once again, a second attempt was made on the same hole and had work crews go another 83 feet down before they finally found water.

IDEQ took samples of the water not long after it was found and the newest results show 4.1 PPB of arsenic; a significant improvement over the previous well water levels.

With the new arsenic levels under the maximum contaminant level, Kellogg School District Superintendent Nancy Larsen is overjoyed that, aside from hooking the new water source up to the school, no other action must be taken on the matter- for now.

"The numbers that we were getting all along seemed like they were rising a little bit here and there, so we could be back in this situation on this well in the future, but we just don't know," she said. "The two wells aren't really that far apart. Not only are they geographically right next to each other, but under the ground, they're at the same levels too."

As for the expense of the drilling, H2O Well Services out of Hayden was able to handle the job for $35,792- coming in lower than the expected price. The cost of the drilling will be covered by Secure Rural School funds provided to KSD by the Federal Government.

"It came in less than what we thought it would be! That never happens!," Larsen said.

Moving forward, the new well will still need constant monitoring to see if the arsenic levels change and will need a structure built around the access point.

This result was truly the best case scenario for the school, as another high arsenic level reading on the new well would have required the district to either build a central treatment plant inside the new well or install a "point-of-use" system on all of the drinking water sources inside the school. Either of these options would have carried a significant price tag.

Arsenic has been reported to cause more than 30 different adverse health effects including cardiovascular disease, diabetes mellitus, skin changes, nervous system damage and various forms of cancer. Although a very high dose (60,000 micrograms) of arsenic can be lethal, the amount of arsenic in drinking water is very small by comparison, and any health effects are the result of prolonged exposure over a period of years.

The more people are exposed to arsenic over time, the higher the risk becomes for experiencing health effects. Different people may have different responses to the same exposure to arsenic, depending on dose, duration, general health, age and other factors, so there is no way to know exactly what may happen in any given case. Reducing the amount of arsenic allowed in drinking water will lessen exposure and reduce risk of adverse health effects.