FAIRHOPE – Manganese exceeding state limits will mean the loss of a municipal well that can provide up to 1 million gallons of water a day to Fairhope, city officials said.
Jason Langley, Fairhope water and sewer superintendent, said the city’s Well 5 on Baldwin County 32 has manganese levels that exceed the maximum allowed by the state. The Alabama Department of Environmental Management has given permission to operate the well if needed, but the water must be tested each day.
“It means in the future, you’re going to lose a well,” Langley said. “We got permission from ADEM to run that well in case of emergency. We have to test it daily for manganese.”
Langley said the well has a capacity of about 1 million gallons a day. During a discussion in June, he said the capacity for the entire Fairhope water system was nine to 10 million gallons a day.
He said another well is almost at the maximum limit for the element.
“Well 4 is not far behind it,” Langley said. “There’re two wells that are borderline. One of them is already crossed and the other one’s borderline.”
Mayor Sherry Sullivan said that when tests find contaminants at or near the limits, outside agencies are brought in to also check the sites.
“We test our wells, but when we get these high levels, we contract with an outside testing site to also test again to make sure that we are accurate in our testing,” Sullivan said. “So, we’re not just relying on what we’re getting. If we see that looks abnormal, we do contract with an outside testing company to test the water to make sure that we’re providing the quality of water that our citizens deserve.”
Langley said manganese, like iron, is found in the soil. It is not a health hazard but can stain clothes and fixtures.
“Manganese is not a health issue,” Langley said. “A lot of people will go buy manganese and take it as a vitamin. It’s an aesthetic, because it stains, and the stain is there in the water line and people’s clothes and stuff of that nature.”
He said the city plans to expand the well services at Treatment Plant 3 to provide more water to Fairhope.
He said the 5.2-acre site has enough water to meet the additional needs created by the loss of the other wells. A new line will also have to be installed to carry the additional water, however, he said.
“Currently, we can’t deliver the water from Treatment Plant 3 to town because of the line size, 8 inch,” Langley said.
Council President Jack Burrell said he worried that depending on one site could make Fairhope more vulnerable in the future if more contaminants are found at that location.
“If you put all your eggs in one basket. You go down to Well 3 and you put tons of money into it, and you get a study that your manganese or your iron’s higher than the threshold in five years,” Burrell said. “What do you do then?”
Langley said the city has operated a well at the site for about 40 years with no sign of contaminant levels near state limits.
“From 1980 to today there’s been no manganese or iron issues, so that’s a pretty good track record,” Langley said.
Councilman Kevin Boone said the city needs to take action to ensure that residents have needed water.
“Nobody’s got a crystal ball to tell you what can happen in five or eight or 10 years, but you’ve got to do something now,” Boone said. “This is the most viable spot that we have because the amount of water that’s below the ground, the size of the acreage that you have and the proximity of who you get it to town.”