Clarifying Bonners Ferry water quality

By Mike Klaus
Bonners Ferry City Engineer

Myrtle Creek Falls

Recently published information regarding the City of Bonners Ferry drinking water quality and safety needs to be addressed so that customers understand the facts about the water that they drink.

A new well on Dakota Street was brought into service in late January. The well was operated nearly continuously for approximately four weeks. After a few weeks of operation, the City received complaints about a white substance on dishes that had come in contact with hot water and water heater operations.

The City of Bonners Ferry water system is regulated by the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality (IDEQ), which requires that complete testing of the water be performed before any water can be used for drinking. IDEQ provides water testing results for every public drinking water system in Idaho.

At that web site, anyone can look under the “Sample Results” tab and view results of any sampling the City has completed. Anyone who is concerned about their water quality can also contact IDEQ directly at (208) 769-1422 to determine if the city has completed all the required drinking water testing. IDEQ drinking water compliance officers Anna Moody and Jim Williamson can also provide you with information regarding whether the city is in compliance with drinking water rules.

The news article recently published in the Bonners Ferry Herald indicated that the city failed to test for several chemicals and compounds in the water. The city has completed all of the required testing with respect to drinking water. This includes the water from the Myrtle Creek source and the new well.

After the complaints, the City took samples to determine the exact amount of calcium that was in the water coming from the new well. The recent testing that was performed on the new well water was sampling that was taken in addition to the City’s required testing for the well. While the City took samples for calcium, samples were also collected for bacteria. All bacterial samples taken were found to be absent of bacteria.

Calcium is not a regulated contaminant by IDEQ or EPA. While calcium can be a significant nuisance, it is not considered by IDEQ and EPA to present a health risk.

Like many wells in Boundary County, the city’s Dakota well has hardness, mostly due to calcium. The well was drilled, constructed and tested in accordance with IDEQ requirements and was meant to create a true water back-up for the city and not intended as a full-time replacement of the Myrtle Creek source. Since the well is approximately 260 feet from the Kootenai River, the city completed two microscopic particulate analyses (MPAs) to ensure that the well water was not influenced by microbes that can be found in surface water. Both MPAs taken yielded a risk factor of zero, meaning that the well water was found to be free of the bioindicators tested for. Giardia and algae are examples of some of the bioindicators that were tested for.

During some runoff events in the spring it is very difficult to continuously remove all of the turbidity required from Myrtle Creek water. Providing enough water to customers during these periods requires that city water operators work at the water treatment plant all night. The Kootenai River is used as a back-up surface water source that can be used by the city, but when Myrtle Creek is turbid, or dirty, the Kootenai is often turbid as well. Knowing that, the city sought out an independent water source that is not susceptible to turbidity; hence the new well was developed.

It important to understand that reason for the recent calcium testing and the city’s request for lead and copper testing are two separate matters.

Typically, lead and copper testing is required every three years, but whenever a public water system adds a new source, IDEQ often requires additional lead and copper sampling. IDEQ is requiring that the City provide 40 lead and copper samples before June 30, which is double previous requirements. Since sample site criteria is fairly restrictive, it is difficult to find 20 new sites, so the city reached out to the public to find more sampling sites.

Calcium hardness causes water discoloration that is typically light in color. City water personnel did hear of one complaint that mentioned brown water, which is not typical of calcium precipitation.

Brown water can come from steel pipes and service lines. It turns out that many service lines within the city are still galvanized steel. Service lines are customer lines that carry water from the water meter to the house. The city also has several steel water mains in service. The city has not been provided any additional information from the complaining party on this matter, nor have we had any other complaints similar to the one cited in the Herald article.

It is the city’s goal to provide the best possible water to its customers.

While the city has a new well, Myrtle Creek is still considered the primary water source. And the city will do its best to incorporate the well into its operations in a way that minimizes customer impacts with respect to calcium.

The City will likely utilize the new well under the following conditions:

When high-turbidity events make it unrealistic to use the Myrtle Creek or the Kootenai River source. These events are most often short-lived.

When the system calls for water at night. Demands are typically low at night and the run time of the well would likely be short.

Water emergencies, such filter damage, a pipe rupture, high demands, etc.

When needed for fire flow.

There may be additional circumstances city water managers pull water from the Dakota well, but in all cases, our best efforts will be made to ensure that the water the city delivers is both safe and of high quality.