A boil water notice that has affected Apalachicola water users for nearly two weeks was lifted Wednesday after all the required sampling of Well #7 and of the distribution system came back with no traces of bacteria.
Rhett Butler, the supervisor of the city's water department, gave the all clear in a Wedesday letter, noting that "the results of this bacteriological sampling shows the water is safe to drink.
The city's precautionary boil water notice was put into place Thursday, June 2.
The lifting of the notice came after an aggressive effort was mounted over the weekend to solve the problem.
City Manager Travis Wade said Rowe Drilling spent the weekend directing staff how to perform chlorination, mobilizing to do an even heavier chlorination at the problematic well site.
The results of these samples, sent to the lab Monday morning, came back at end of day Tuesday.
“I could not ask any more of water department employees,” said Wade. “Those guys worked pretty much round the clock[ they were getting four hours sleep at night for a while.”
The boil water notice was extended after a pair of water samples tested positive bacteria Thursday, June 9.
The locations that tested positive were at Well #7, for the second consecutive time, and at 47 Highway 98, not far from the airport, Wade said.
The city has also tested for bacteria at various distribution points in the system, after the water has been treated, which are closer in the system to homeowners’ taps and faucets.
Bacteria has come back clean from those tests, but the Florida Department of Environmental Protection has protocols in place that require the city issue a precautionary boil water notice.when bacteria appears at the well site.
Wade and Butler said the city was besieged by calls ever since a “perfect storm” of broken pumps and replaced well equipment forced the precautionary boil water notice.
The city operates three wells, at 29 Chapman Road; and two near the airport. To draw sufficient water, the wells are 425 feet deep and replacing the submersible portions can involve considerable time and expense.
That work ran about $60,000 in emergency costs, and would not have led to the boil water notice had it not been that a pump at a second site went out as well. Normally routine work does not require such a notice because the city can turn to two other working wells to serve the system if the replacement site needs further work.
Wade said all three wells date back to 2002, and have been without annual maintenance since then.
Wade said Rowe Drilling conducted aggressive cleaning on Well #7 all through the weekend
Samples were taken afterward and submitted to the lab in Tallahassee. Samples were delivered to the lab Monday morning, to be tested on Tuesday morning.
“Hopefully we will get good news from those samples,” said Wade. “We continue to wonder when the boil water notice will be rescinded. We wish we could answer that question with certainty. Until this site receives a negative result, the boil water notice remains. We are hoping ‘today’ is the day, but that can't be said with certainty.”
Along with inconvenience to residents, the boil water notice added to costs for local businesses, including the city’s largest oyster dealers, Leavins Seafood and Water Street Seafood.
Commissioner Anita Grove said Leavins had to bring in water from the Eastpoint system, while Water Street had to send oysters to be shucked in Alabama, and then returned here for distribution.
Wade said the city continues, with the help of Rowe, to do “super chlorination” of its well, and noted that this is to fully clean the well, but does not mean the city water that flows out of taps has a higher level of chlorine or its byproducts.
He said the city has expended $270,000 for a complete cleaning of both the interior and exterior of its groundwater storage tank, which will contribute to improved water quality moving through the system
“We want to win the water contest in Florida,” said Butler. “We want to be more proactive than reactive.”
At last week’s regular meeting, Mayor Brenda Ash said the city’s workers have been doing all they can.
“Our purpose is to make sure you're safe,” said Ash. “Unfortunately we have to go through that process and at the end of the day we hope to bring clean water. We are striving to do the best we can do. All the staff have been working overtime, and pulling the team together.”
Wade said the city’s drinking water staff “has been working nearly 24 hours a day, with calls as late as 11:50 p.m. and as early as 6 a.m.”
“They’re working hard all day and working all night,” he said. “When you see them, say hi to them, say thank you. They're taking the brunt of it and their phones are going crazy right now.”
Wade said that residents with questions or comments are advised to reach out directly to city staff at City Hall, or by email.
At the regular meeting, Commissioners Despina George and Grove both called for ongoing communication from the city. Donna Duncan was absent.
“Communication is paramount, daily if not several times a day,” said Grove. “For some people it’s a serious medical issue.”
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