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No easy fix for wells in Livingston

LIVINGSTON — The results from Livingston's water-well profiling are in — and they aren't what city officials were hoping for.

A $22,500 study of wells 8 and 15 has shown that not much can be done with them to reduce contaminants without costly filtration systems.

Impurities include high levels of arsenic, manganese and 1,2,3-Trichloropropane.

Profiling the city's wells to determine where contaminants are coming from could have allowed the Public Works Department to correct the source of the problem, explore alternatives and avoid expensive repairs and treatment, according to a December interview with Michelle Whitman, who worked as an environmental scientist at the time for BESST, a company that deals in subsurface technology.

Wells have perforations along the sides that allow water in — and sometimes contaminants, she said.

By profiling the well and finding where the contaminants are coming in, certain sections can be blocked off, while sections allowing in cleaner water can be left open, Whitman said.

But wells are diverse, Whitman added. Contaminants are concentrated along certain sections of some wells, while they're more evenly distributed along others. A more even distribution makes it harder to pinpoint the troublesome areas.

The test results show that 1,2,3-Trichloropropane is evenly dispersed throughout well 8, meaning cheaper treatment alternatives won't work.

Often used in the production of pesticides, 1,2,3-Trichloropropane is a man-made chemical that can cause cancer, kidney failure and tumors upon exposure, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

In well 15, arsenic — a semimetallic element that can lead to cancer, skin discoloration, nausea, vomiting, partial paralysis and blindness — is evenly spread throughout the well, as is manganese.

Councilman Gurpal Samra said the test was part of the city's effort to explore every possible option when treating well water. "I wish it could have been better news, but at least we explored the idea," he said.

It would've been nice to deal with isolated contaminants through well modification, but the results don't allow for it, said Kathryn Reyes, Livingston's Public Works superintendent.

"We're trying to thoroughly pursue every avenue before we make a decision with the ratepayers' money on how we're going to handle the arsenic and manganese, which are naturally occurring," she said.

However, there's some good news for the city.

Foster Farms, the giant poultry-producer based in Livingston, is paying an estimated $111,153 for treatment of well 8; they're its main user.

The Livingston City Council approved the agreement during Tuesday night's meeting, and according to the staff report, the city will reimburse the treatment costs to Foster Farms if the city happens to secure funding from another source.

City officials expect future well treatments to cost more than $1 million.

Reporter Mike North can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or