Friday, July 27, 2012

Most towns have few or no options when the water runs low. Monett is one of the exceptions.

The plan for building a water treatment plant on the old Rutherford farm has sounded better and better this week. "Old Muddy," the chronically cranky well at North Park, once again had to be taken off-line. Added to the system in 1983, the #12 well has a long history of getting "turbid," the term for clouding up with too much dirt.

"Old Muddy" is vulnerable to changes in the water table below. When it gets low, as it has done lately, the water stirs the ground as it's pumped out. In the last big drought in 2006, the well stayed out of service for six months.

If #12 wasn't such a good well, producing up to 740 gallons a minute under good conditions, it might not be worth the trouble. But #12 and #9, located near Monett Elementary School, drilled in 1965, together produce about half the city's water.

Utilities superintendent Pete Rauch scrambled this week when #12 went out muddy over the weekend. This time he had another plan. The city's newest well, #21, at the Jack Henry and Associates complex, now has a well house and was almost ready to be added to the system. The new well has its own history of muddiness, and of late has been borderline. In this hot spell, Rauch wanted to give it a try.

After some extended pumping, #21 cleared. With chlorination in place, Rauch had the well put into service. He stationed water department staff in four-hour shifts to stay at the well around the clock, taking measurements every 15 minutes. They mainly watched out for recurring hiccups where the water would suddenly go muddy again, in which case the well would be switched to waste. The Department of Natural Resources was alerted as is standard practice when anything changes in a water system.

The good news is the strategy worked. Not only did #21 stay clear, but is began producing 750 to 760 gallons a minute, better than "Old Muddy."

What makes #21 trickier than the other wells is it has not yet been hooked up to the city's Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) system. SCADA measures all the water dynamics and quality automatically, allowing Rauch to control any of the wells from his laptop, even from home.

Efforts were being made on Wednesday to complete the SCADA connection for #21.

Nonetheless, Rauch was exuberant by mid-week. He was still urging conservation, and thanking industry for holding down water use with the reliability of #21 still in question.

There are other unknowns. Rauch said filling up the city's water system from a big source in the southwest corner of town is much different than relying on a well in the middle of town. Everything is different and the balance has to be learned afresh.

"It's been worth some sleepless nights to have the water, as long as #21 hangs in there with us and lightning doesn't strike #9," Rauch said. "We're not out of the woods yet."

Monett is fortunate not only to have water options, but also to have someone with vision at the helm.