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Long-awaited Beall Well is now pumping water

Water District 19’s Beall Well quietly went online last month, six years after Vashon’s largest water purveyor began working to develop the source in an effort to respond to a multi-year moratorium for new shares.

The well will produce up to 80 gallons a minute, far less than the district’s engineers initially estimated but still a substantial increase in the agency’s overall output. According to Jeff Lakin, District 19’s manager, water from the Beall Well will increase the agency’s capacity by 10 to 15 percent.

“It’s significant news,” said Steven Haworth, who chairs the district’s three-person commission. “It’s been expected for so long.”

Several problems have beset the project, making it both costlier and more complex than the district had anticipated. The latest issue was a discovery last year that water from the well contained nearly four times the level of arsenic allowed in domestic drinking supplies.

The district found a way around that problem, blending water from Beall Creek with water from the Beall Well, a process that dilutes the arsenic to levels below the federal limit. Federal standards allow no more than 10 parts per billion (PPB) of arsenic. Blended with creek water, arsenic in the Beall Well’s water is now five to six PPB, said Haworth.

But the fix took a long time, largely, Lakin said, because of personnel changes and other issues at the state Department of Health, which had to approve the blending process. “It took a good three months to get all of the questions answered,” he said.

District 19 commissioners said the addition of the Beall Well will not lower the agency’s water quality. The district already has another well that contains arsenic, said Bob Powell, a commissioner. What’s more, the Beall Well will likely only be used in the summer months, when demand for water is at a peak, he said.

“I think the water is going to be as safe as any state or federal standards expect it to be,” said Haworth. “We wouldn’t produce water if it weren’t safe. I’m a customer, too.”

The additional capacity is particularly noteworthy because of what it might mean for the district’s long waiting list, currently about 300-shares long. The district declared a moratorium 15 years ago because it couldn’t meet peak demand. With additional water from the Beall Well and the Morgan Well, plus water that has resulted from increased conservation measures by the district’s customers, commissioners will likely be able to issue several additional shares next year as part of its budget process.

Haworth said he believes the district could issue as many as 25 new shares, the biggest addition since the moratorium began. “I think we could start making a dent in that waiting list,” he said.

But Powell said he believes the district can’t issue any additional shares until the new well has been online for several months. The district has struggled with unreliable sources in the past, he said. This new well will have to prove itself.

“We have the paper ability to issue new shares,” he said. “There’s the separate question of prudence. Out of the long-term concern for our community’s well-being, we want to have some feeling of confidence in the Beall and Morgan Hill sources.”

Should new shares be issued, the first name on the list is Douglas Kelbaugh, a professor of architecture and urban planning at the University of Michigan. According to the King County assessor, Kelbaugh and his wife Kathleen Nolan own nearly 10 acres in Vashon town — a parcel accessible via a skinny strip of land on Bank Road. All told, Kelbaugh has sought 23 shares, Lakin said; he’s bought a few of them over the last few years, when shares have become available from those who no longer wanted theirs, Lakin added.

Reached via email in Ann Arbor, Mich., Kelbaugh said the lot is zoned for up to 19 dwellings. The couple bought the 10-acre parcel several years ago because of its potential for a development and its close proximity to Vashon town, he said, but he added that they have no immediate or definite plans for the site.

“The property seems ripe for development as a compact residential village, but how, by whom, and when remain to seen,” he said.

 

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