UAF water contract does not bode well for well

Sam Allen / Sun Star

UAF Facilities Services announced last month that they will abandon their wells and connect with College Utilities later this fall, after persistent high levels of contaminants in campus water caused a failure to meet Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations.

The university will tap into College Utilities Corporation’s system. This involves $1.3 million in construction costs, according to Vice Chancellor of Facilities Services Scott Bell.

Freshman Moses Sohn drinks water from the water fountain that's located next to Dine 49. - Zayn Roohi / Photo Editor

UAF Freshman Moses Sohn drinks water from the water fountain that’s located next to Dine 49. This is one of the many purified water fountains located on campus, where students can refill their water bottles with clean water. – Zayn Roohi / Photo Editor

The change will be a permanent solution, Bell said, and will reduce costs by reducing the workforce associated with water treatment on campus. It will also bring the drinking water on campus back to within EPA guidelines.

The water currently has high levels of contaminants caused by inorganic matter interacting with disinfectants. A $10,000 carbon filter installed this spring did little to abate the poor water quality.

It currently costs UAF about $700,000 annually to process and distribute water internally. Buying water from Golden Heart Utilities, which owns College Utilities, would initially cost more.

The plan is to finance construction costs through Golden Heart Utilities over 10 years, according to Bell. This will increase the annual cost to $800,000 for the first decade, and then drop back down to $700,000 for following years.

Overall this will save the university money, according to Bell, as a projected capital expense of $1.5 million is estimated to renovate the potable water treatment center on campus within the next five to eight years.

Scott Bell and UAF director of utilities Chilkoot Ward were unable to explain why UAF water contains such high levels of inorganic matter compared to other wells in town.

Mike Pollen, a water and  waste water consultant a who heads NTL Inc, says that the organic matter in the UAF water is a result of the UAF well field.

“The Tanana Valley and its tributary, the Chena River, have meandered back and forth through millenia, leaving deposits of gravel, silt, and organic matter in the oxbows and bends that become filled in over time as the river courses move,” Pollen said.

The UAF groundwater is drawing from a vesige with prehistoric organic debris in an old bend of these rivers, according to Pollen. Therefore, the total organic carbon (TOC) concentration is higher than what is being produced from the wells used by Golden Heart Utilities.

“UAF sort of won the high TOC lottery and wrestles with the consequences of that with the formation of disinfection by-products,” Pollen said.

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