By ANDREA VARGO
"Where in the money did we start to have trouble? Was it at $80,000 or $100,000? And why wasn't the city told?"asked City Administrator Doug Borglund of Dale Folen, engineering firm Rieke Carroll Muller Associates., Inc (RCM) representative.
The special meeting last Monday morning of the Howard Lake City Council, RCM, Bergerson-Caswell, Inc. drilling contractor, Minnesota Department of Health, and political figures brought nothing but frustration to the voices of council members and staff.
Folen said the problems with well number five developed March 20, when the water capacity started dropping from 600 gallons per minute to 300 gpm with a color similar to tomato soup.
Borglund said he felt the city hadn't been informed of this early enough.
In a summary of the background of the well number five project, Folen provided the following information.
As late as 1945, the city used the lake as a public water supply source. In 1946, well number one was drilled into the Mt. Simon-Hinckley-Fond du Lac aquifer at a depth of 900 feet.
In 1956, well number two was drilled into the same aquifer at 1,040 feet.
Wells three and four draw water from a sand layer at a depth of 93-148 feet. These two wells have low concentrations of arsenic which are removed, but render the sludge from the treatment plant difficult to dispose of.
In 1995, the city expressed interest in a well that would minimize the arsenic problem and provide enough water by itself for the city.
At the start of the project, it was expected that if a new well were constructed to draw water from the same layer as well number two, it would probably meet the proposed drinking water standards for radium.
Well number two was sealed because Minnesota Department of Health standards at that time said the radium levels were too high.
The formula has changed, and that well would be fine under the 1991 proposed regulations.
The city of Howard Lake is located near the western edge of a system of bedrock aquifers called the Hollandale Embayment.
West of the city, the bedrock is granite or other non-water-bearing rock.
The drillers' logs from wells one and two showed Mt. Simon sandstone underlain by Hinckley sandstone.
Well number two drew water from an open thickness of four to six feet of Mt. Simon, and about 486 feet of Hinckley.
Well number five was placed on the nearest available city property east of the old wells, with the expectation that being toward the center of the embayment should yield aquifer layering similar to the old wells.
The first major step in the well number five drilling project was a test well.
A gamma log, measuring gamma radiation in the aquifers near the proposed site was reviewed with the test well drilling notes.
Minnesota Geological Survey (MGS) representatives and the contractor, Bergerson-Caswell, Inc., discussed the expectations of the local geology and recommended that the inner casing be placed to a depth of 490 feet, sealing the Mt. Simon layer and its high gamma level.
That would leave the Hinckley layer as the water source.
The Hinckley layer generally has a lower water production capacity than the Mt. Simon.
There was concern about whether the Hinckley layer would produce the desired 600 gpm, but MGS staff believed that the apparently available thickness of Hinckley aquifer would be enough.
During the construction of well number five, the contractor had problems with shale and clay materials in the layers above the Mt. Simon.
Materials swelled and caved in on the drilling tools. This caused the need to install an intermediate casing.
There were recurring problems of the same nature to the 961 foot depth, when a different geologic material was reached.
MGS was contacted when the red shale became the red soup brought to the surface during the test pumping. This was an unusual occurrence, and MGS was contacted by the driller.
The primary concern with the current condition of well number five is the limited water production capacity.
The first option would consist of cutting the bottom off the inner casing in an attempt to open the Mt. Simon aquifer as the primary water producer.
The lower section of the existing open hole would be filled with grout to limit cloudy water from the shales.
The estimated cost of this option would be $81,930, which would be added to the total contract amount of $263,315.50.
The methods proposed by the contractor are not standard operations, and there is no guarantee that the attempt would work. In addition, it is uncertain what the radium concentrations would be.
Option two would seal the well and the entire project would be abandoned. This cost would amount to just under $58,000 and would be added to the money spent to date. The overall cost would be about $232,590.
The third option would be to develop the existing open aquifer to gain as much capacity as possible.
The cost for this is extremely difficult to predict. The main reason this would not be a good option is that the contractor and MSG did not expect success.
State Senator Steve Dille asked the hard questions of the federal and state agencies. He wanted to know what they were going to do to help the city.
He got little usable response. It seems the city needs a flood, storm, or drought to get disaster funds, according to the state disaster funding agencies.
Four people from Rural Development attended and had nothing to contribute.
Rural Development has grant money, but the city didn't meet the criteria when the well was started, said Brad DeWolf, city engineer.
Now the city meets the criteria and has to resubmit the forms, he said.
Dille will address the legislature and try for help there. U.S. Representative David Minge's office will also be involved.
Mayor Mark Custer said that there is money in the state's Safe Drinking Water Revolving Loan and Grant Fund.
He said if the city rolls the Hwy. 12 utilities project, a water tower, and the well project into one package, it should be enough to get Howard Lake high on the list for funds.
So while there appear to be financial options, some questions still remain unanswered.
"Why did the contractor drill in that specific spot?" asked Jim Ittel, Howard Lake businessman.
"Why was the city not kept informed of the well's problems,?" asked Borglund.
Borglund said the city sign a contract for over a quarter of a million dollars with a no performance clause in it.
He later told the Herald that Folen, RCM, said that is how the company does it.
In an informal survey of well drillers in and out of the area by the Herald, a no performance clause is not a usual practice for a private well contract, unless the home owner insists on a place the driller doesn't like.