SPRINGERVILLE — The Oct. 16 town council meeting held positive developments for the town of Springerville, including changes to the town water system to make it safer for residents, as well as the first moves towards getting better internet service for the Round Valley area.
The town of Springerville has had a problem with the levels of radium 226 and radium 228 in their water in one of the seven wells used to service the town.
The Voigt well on the west side of town, occasionally spikes in radium levels, exceeding the 5.0 picoCuries per liter threshold set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for water quality. A Curie is a unit of radioactivity equivalent to 1 gram of radium and the prefix “pico” means a trillionth.
“Radium is naturally present in all ground water wells,” Tim Rasmussen, the Public Works Director for Springerville, said in an interview prior to the council meeting. He understands how scary the word radium is to people, but the phenomenon occurs naturally in ground water in states all over the United States.
“Radium is a silvery-white metal that is radioactive. Since radium is present at very low levels in rocks and soil, it can strongly attach to those materials. It may be found in higher levels in drinking water from wells. In some areas of the United States, higher amounts of radium are found in the water due to the earth’s natural structure,” according to a public health bulletin published by the Delaware Division of Public Health.
Keeping it at safe levels is what is important.
To that end, the town has spent a year and a half working on acquiring funding so that they can solve the problem of the higher radium levels in the Voit well. Their solution, a plan for a “blending station,” involves connecting the town’s water system, joining the east-side wells that have extremely low radium levels with the west side system that is having issues, and blending the water in order to provide all of the town’s residents with water that is well within EPA allowances for safe drinking water.
The town applied for a grant from the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) and the Water Infrastructure Finance Authority (WIFA), a program that offers assistance for projects that maintain and improve water quality.
“They approved us up to $110,000,” Rasmussen said in the interview. “We went out to bid, and we only received one bid.” This first bid was to the tune of $335,000, which was far too much to be covered by the ADEQ/WIFA grant. The town then went into a second round of advertising and secured a much better bid, this time for $175,663. They then went back to ADEQ and WIFA with this new bid, and the new bid was accepted and, surprisingly, fully-funded, even though it still exceeded the original grant approval amount.
“The money that we received is 100% funded, no match, which is huge for the town,” Rasmussen said. “We’re also getting a second bonus out of what we’re doing: we’re able to introduce water from the east side of town to the west side. The east side produces 2/3 of the production for the town, but the consumption is only 1/3. If we ever have a problem with the well on the west side, now we can send water into the west side [from the east side].” The water supplies for east and west Springerville are currently not connected in such a way that they could support other areas of town, so this connection would create a much more stable and reliable system for water delivery to residents.
The blending station will be at Maricopa and S. Pima, right next to the Voigt Well. This project will require new piping, valves, and vaults, and will tie into previous projects, such as the Sensory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) technology, which was also done through WIFA.
With SCADA, “I can control everything right off of my phone and off of the computer,” Rasmussen explained. The water system could be adjusted as needed remotely, increasing efficiency of the system. Valves and mixers will respond to programming to ensure that the water is balanced to appropriate levels before it hits the distribution system. Additional automation programming could assist with emergency shutdowns of the system as well, if needed.
The council unanimously voted to award the contract for the Voigt blending station to Western Grade, LLC., for an amount not to exceed $175,663.80.
The Springerville town council also approved a measure to authorize an application for the Arizona Rural Broadband Development Grant for $50,000.
“The town of Eagar and the town of Springerville are very interested in improving the internet broadband capabilities in our community. We recognize it as an economic development stumbling block where we currently are. So, we want to work together,” Joe Jarvis, Springerville town manager, said of the rural broadband grant application. “We also recognize that the ACA (Arizona Commerce Authority) wants to see joint applications, group applications.”
“This will provide us with up to $50,000 for us to hire a contractor to assist us with the planning, of taking the existing fiber that’s within our community … and finding a way to connect the community – residents and businesses – to that existing fiber line,” Jarvis explained. He said that he would like to see some unincorporated communities, such as McNary, Alpine and Nutrioso, included on the planning and projects as well if possible.
As co-applicants, Eagar and Springerville will split the required matching amount of 10%, which means each town would be responsible for up to $2,500. The application is due October 28, and awards will be announced in December. If awarded, the planning project must be completed within 12 months. The town council approved the measure and seemed excited to be taking the first steps in getting better broadband service to residents.
Amber Shepard is a local journalist covering municipal governments and other Apache County topics.