Water system shuts down well in heart of PTC

The Fayette County Commission on Oct. 11 unanimously approved a recommendation by Fayette County Water System Director Tony Parrott to shut down the Willowbend well in Peachtree City.

That decision at first glance might seem to be at odds with a call for the request to have the state permit Fayette County to impose water use restrictions due to low levels at Lake Horton. But the decision to shut down the well does make sense given that the Willowbend well produces less than one percent of Fayette’s drinking water and that small quantities of the industrial chemical tetrachloroethylene has been shown to be present in annual water quality tests of the well.

The county water system operates two wells, both located in Peachtree City. Willowbend is the oldest water source in Fayette County and was the original water source for Peachtree City, Parrott said. Willowbend produces approximately 60,000 gallons per day (gpd) while the Log House well produces approximately 70,000 gpd.

But Fayette County’s main water sources are are Lake Horton and Lake Peachtree. On occasion, the water system can also draw water from the Flint River and from Whitewater Creek at Starr’s Mill. Fayette’s water system has been permitted to increase the current water treatment capacity from 6.1 million gallons per day to 9.3 million gpd, said water system Assistant Director Russell Ray.

Put in perspective, the water system’s two wells in August produced 1.12 percent of the county’s total drinking water output, according to Ray, who said the decision to stop using the well came after annual reports continued to show the presence of a small quantity of the industrial chemical.

One of approximately 60 industrial chemicals tested annually by the state, tetrachloroethylene, also known as perchloroethylene or “perc,” is a volatile organic compound used in a number of industrial applications. Widely used as a degreaser and solvent, tetrachloroethylene is also used in the dry cleaning industry.

The stated maximum contaminant level for tetrachloroethylene is 5 parts per billion (ppb). The annual test performed in August showed the presence of only a small fraction of the chemical at 0.67 ppb, one-seventh of the maximum limit. The test sample taken in November 2011 showed .6 ppb while the sample in July 2011 showed .53 ppb and the January 2009 sampled showed 1.1 ppb, water system test results showed.

While considered safe by the state and federal governments in such small quantities, Ray said water system officials decided to go ahead with the recommendation to shut down the well rather than waiting to see what future annual reports might indicate.

Ray in noting the Willowbend well located on the property of the Peachtree City First Presbyterian Church said the well depth is 400 feet while the pump is located at a depth of 250 feet.

Parrott in an Oct. 11 memo to commissioners said, “Annual water testing by the Drinking Water Program has revealed .53 parts per billion (ppb) of tetrachloroethylene. According to the State of Georgia, the approved Maximum Contaminate Level (MCL) level for tetrachloroethylene is 5 ppb, meaning it meets state standards and is safe to drink. The purpose for this request is based on a low production rate at 60,000 gallons per day. Simply stated, the Willowbend well is not necessary as a water source.”

As for the industrial chemical showing up in test results, there is likely little hope of determining the source of what is usually an intentional or unintentional spill that results in a chemical leaching deep underground to show up in a water sample months or years later, especially at a depth of a few hundred feet. And while easy enough to determine water flow above ground, the situation below the surface can be vastly more complicated by factors such as the type of soil, soil compaction and the presence of significant rock.

Commissioners at the meeting approved a request asking the state Environmental Protection Division to grant a variance from the state outdoor water use schedule to restrict outdoor watering for any purpose to an odd/even schedule and with no outdoor watering permitted on Fridays. Parrott in background information said, ”In Fayette County, Lake Horton’s water level was not at full (pool) at the beginning of spring and will likely not be at full next spring to drought conditions in the area. Furthermore, the long range weather forecast is not predicting much rain in the next few months. To preserve Fayette County’s Water Resources, it is necessary to change the current water restrictions that are currently being followed under the Georgia Water Stewardship Act.”