Five months after it was accidentally damaged during routine cleaning, Keno City’s well is still unusable and water is still being trucked to the community from Mayo.
Dwayne Muckosky, director of community operations with the Department of Community Services, was unable to say if or when the well will be safe to use again.
For the moment, he said, the government will continue to pump dirty water out of the well in the hopes that cleaner water will replace it.
“We just have to keep pumping water from the well and monitor the quality of the water very closely,” he said. “We remain committed to ensuring the residents of Keno have a safe supply of water.”
The problem occurred in July, when Whitehorse-based Midnight Sun Drilling tried to scrape down and clean the column of the well.
“The lower portions of the well were thought to be solid bedrock, but it turns out it was a bit softer than we had thought,” Muckosky explained.
While the contractor was working, there was a “partial collapse” deep down in the well.
That collapse caused a large amount of dirt and rock to fall into the aquifer, which means the water being pumped out contains a high level of sediment, or turbidity.
Back in July, Muckosky said the well would “be repaired within the next couple of weeks.”
But the water still hasn’t cleared up.
The latest water sample, taken on Nov. 25, shows a turbidity level of 35.4. Muckosky said that, according to Canadian drinking water quality guidelines, water with a turbidity level higher than 1.0 is not safe for human consumption. Levels of cadmium and uranium were also very close to the drinking water guideline cutoffs.
The water also had elevated levels of sulfate, iron and manganese, Muckosky said, though “these are things that would affect the colour and the taste of the water, but it would pose no health risk.”
In the legislative assembly on Monday, NDP MLA Jim Tredger suggested that mining activity in the area might be responsible for some of the contamination in the well.
He said that trucking the water from Mayo “has become necessary because water from the Onek site (a nearby mine site) near Keno may be contaminating the village’s groundwater.”
But Muckosky said that’s not the case. “We have absolutely no evidence that there’s any relation to activities surrounding the well in that area.”
After the well was damaged, he said, the government pumped large quantities of water out of it, hoping to remove all the sediment. That continued until mid-October.
“We had hoped that purging the well would have corrected this issue, but it hasn’t.”
Instead, workers are now pumping the water out more slowly, and are taking samples every two weeks.
“Really, all we can do is monitor the quality of the water very closely,” Muckosky said.
Still, trucking water from Mayo two or three times a week is expensive. Muckosky said each delivery day costs $1,050, up from $700 when the Keno well was working.
But he said the department has no plans to drill a new well in Keno at the moment. That’s partly because mineral content in the area is so high that a contractor might drill a new well only to find the water undrinkable.
“We’re going to try to improve the existing well to get it up to standard so that it can provide the clean and safe drinking water that those residents need,” Community Services Minister Currie Dixon said in the legislative assembly on Monday. “If it’s determined that, in the long run, that is not going to be possible, then we’ll have to look at other options at that point, but we’re not at that stage yet.”
Sonia Hepner, a Keno resident, said the government held a community meeting to discuss the situation in November. She appreciates that the department is trucking water from Mayo at no cost to residents, and is trying to fix the problem.
But she’s concerned about how difficult it might be to supply the village’s water needs in the summer, when the population grows and there’s more demand for public laundry and shower facilities. She said she would restrict her water use if it were still being trucked from Mayo.
She also voiced concerns about having enough water in the community in case of fire.
“It’s great to be independent and have your own water supply and be able to take care of yourselves.”
Mike Mancini, president of the Keno Community Club, said the water deliveries from Mayo have been going well so far. But he worries the community won’t have a good water source in the long term.
“There’s definitely concern that the well is not going to be usable,” he said. “The fact that it got to this point, it is a concern.”
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