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Road to potential well site is laid in Tupper Lake

Mark Robillard drives in a marker stake at the location of one of the test wells to be drilled on the shore of the Raquette River to supply the southern end of the town of Tupper Lake with well water. (Enterprise photo — Aaron Cerbone)

TUPPER LAKE — Village officials hope a road laid to a potential well drilling site off the shore of the Raquette River last week will be a path out of the water quality issues that have plagued the municipal water department for years.

Water department Superintendent Mark Robillard says if the test wells drilled at the site at the end of Glenwood Avenue — near where the river empties into Little Simond Pond on the south side of town — can produce water in adequate quality and quantity, the village could potentially source all its water from underground wells, closing its surface water intakes.

Before 2018, village water was obtained from two surface water sources: Big Tupper Lake and Little Simond Pond. Organic materials in the water, such as leaves or algae, can form trihalomethanes and haloacetic acids as water is treated with chlorine disinfection. Both these by-products have been linked to harmful side effects after prolonged exposure, including an increased risk for cancer.

The state has been pushing for municipalities to move to well water in recent years, and in 2018 two wells were dug on the north end of town, out by Pitchfork Pond. However, these two have not been enough to meet the town’s demand, and the uptown area, farthest from the wells, is still supplemented with water from Little Simond Pond. And therefore, the carcinogenic by-products are still showing up in uptown’s water.

Robillard said wells do not take in as much organic material as surface water sources. He said gravel deep in the ground acts as a natural filter. That makes groundwater generally safer to drink.

Glenwood site

When the village was scouting for well sites, HydroSource Associates owner Claude Cormier, of Ashland, New Hampshire, flagged this location along the Raquette River as a potential area. The property owners at the time did not want a well there, so the village settled on the Pitchfork Pond site instead.

Robillard said the landowner has since died and the family member who inherited the land has been open to allowing the village to drill there. The property owner would enter a decades-long easement agreement with the village water department, which would own and maintain the equipment, buildings and wells, but not the land.

After a week of work, North Country Contractors finished the road up to the test site on Friday. The final road will be extended 50 to 100 additional feet past the drilling site to allow for truck turnarounds.

The road cost $12,500.

The next step is to drill test wells to determine output potential and water quality at the location.

“Claude Cormier determined that we should hit water here; quantity and quality we don’t know,” Robillard said.

He said there is an assumption that there is good water under there, but no confirmation yet.

Village board Trustee and water and sewer commissioner Ron LaScala said he has confidence in Cormier’s decision-making, saying he has a good track record in the state.

Robillard said there would be two wells drilled at this site, a main one and second, redundant one, which would be used for everyday and emergency purposes. He said this site needs to be able to produce between 300 and 500 gallons per minute to be viable.

“The more, the merrier,” he said.

The surface water intake at Little Simond Pond currently pulls between 300 and 400 gpm, he said, so if Glenwood can match that, the department could make the flip without losing quantity.

The two wells at Pitchfork Ponds can pull 800 gpm, Robillard said, though he said they usually operate at lower numbers than that.

Robillard said he wants the test wells drilled in the next week or two so a decision can be made on the site by the end of the year, allowing for work to begin next season.

A contract between the village and HydroSource Associates prices the test well sites at probably costing between $43,700 and $66,700.

He said this site should hypothetically cost less in total than the Pitchfork Pond wells, due to close proximity to the village main water lines. At Pitchfork Pond the department ran 2.5 miles of water lines to tie into the village system. Here, the site is a couple hundred yards from the lines.

Pumping iron

But even with a fully well-drawn water system, there are discoloration and taste issues that crop up, which don’t in surface-drawn systems.

LaScala said the village was told iron would not be a problem at Pitchfork Pond, but at some point the system must have hit an iron vein because the metal is being detected at the plant.

He said iron poses few health hazards, more aesthetic ones. In high amounts, iron can be toxic. Unless it is highly concentrated the water will just be “the color of Pepsi” and taste strange.

“I wouldn’t drink it, and I wouldn’t tell anyone to drink that,” LaScala said.

The solution so far has been to run one well and let the other settle, and then swap when the operating well gets too much iron.

LaScala said a permanent solution may require using water treatment chemicals to remove the iron and then using chlorine to clean up after that chemical. This is not ideal, he said, as the village was happy the wells required fewer chemicals than usual.

LaScala said the red sand around the Glenwood site points to iron being present, adding that Tupper Lake is surrounded by iron.

LaScala said from his start on the board he has wanted clean drinking water for the village. He said taxpayers’ patience for a solution is low, and so is his.

“As the water and sewer commissioner, it’s embarrassing for me,” LaScala said. “It’s frustrating for (Robillard) when people have coffee-colored water. It’s disgusting. It doesn’t look right. Who in their right mind is going to drink it?”

Robillard said while others may be put off, he drinks his water all the time, knowing it is regulated by the state Department of Health with regular testing.

LaScala said the water department is also working with the C2AE consulting firm to work on engineering a better way to flush sediment from the water lines.

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