FERNDALE, Wash. — Ferndale area resident, Garin Wallace, recently published his interpretation of City of Ferndale well production data obtained from the city through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. In his personal blog post, he asserts a decrease in production from 1 of the 2 city wells is an indication that it is a dying well, likely the result of salt water contamination. The City’s response indicates an entirely different scenario.
The City of Ferndale’s water comes from a system of two ground water wells about 100-feet deep. The two wells tap into a thick layer of coarse sand and gravel within a regional aquifer. The water pumped from the wells is treated at the city’s water treatment plant where it is softened and chlorinated (to protect against microbial contaminants).
Wallace’s blog post has been passed around on social media and its warnings about the city’s water supply became a source of concern for some residents. As a result, city staff issued the following responses Friday to Wallace’s assertions about the wells.
Wallace: “… the City has not been testing the raw (as pumped) water for indications that salt water intrusion, in fact they hadn’t tested the raw water since they began using wells.”
City’s response: “This article raises concerns about sea water infiltrating our wells. Short answer, the City has followed the recommendations of the consultants in the report and all the health department monitoring requirements and it is not a concern at this time.”
Editor’s note: It can be seen in the annual water quality reports produced by the city that there has been ongoing testing of raw water.
Wallace: “… the Shop Well began ailing in 2013, and then essentially died in 2015 as a result of the lowered water table.”
City’s response: “Before we installed the RO [reverse osmosis] units, we were able to utilize the softer water from the shop well, once RO units were online, we flip flopped, pumping more out of the Douglas well, because it is more reliable (since it is deeper).”
Editor’s note: The city activated the reverse osmosis water softening system in late 2014. During a Public Works and Utilities Committee meeting on August 15, 2018, Public Works Director Kevin Renz discussed how the 2 wells were being utilized. He explained the Shop Well was being utilized only during the summer months and turned off during the winter months. It was being maintained as a “very precious resource during the times we need it.”
The discussion can be listened to beginning at the 5:45 mark.
Wallace: “In 2017, the recently hired public works director used the words, “…in the event another well should fail…”, so the city recognized the problem then. But a year later the words were “…in the event either or both of the other two wells should fail…”. Huh? Had one of the wells miraculously “unfailed” or did the City modify their “message” to the public.”
City’s response: “Concerns about those wells are typically mechanical. If the pump breaks, we want to make sure we’ve got a backup – it’s the sort of emergency planning the city does for all of our essential system and it is part of why we are so excited about our new well in a separate aquifer.”
Wallace also provided a graph of data detailing daily minimum and maximum water levels at the Douglas Road well over time. The graph shows both levels on a consistent decline. The city’s response on Friday to this information was, “All the aquifers in Whatcom County are showing reduced levels as the climate continues to warm – adding a third well will help address that downward trend as well as add some much needed redundancy.”
At the August 2018 Public Works and Utilities Committee meeting, Renz presented the same graph and explained the aquifer had declined about 50-feet and that the rate of decline was slowing. Renz said he expected to reach a point of equilibrium at some time in the future when the decline would end. The decline was consistent between both wells, Renz said.
Bringing a 3rd well online continues to be a work-in-progress according to city staff. While the well, referred to as Shop Well #2, was drilled in 2017 and reached a seemingly untapped aquifer at a depth of about 1000-feet, there are health, water rights and construction processes to go through before it can be brought online as another source for the city water supply. The latest estimate is for the well to be brought online some time next year.