Nitrates still high in San Juan Bautista

City works to build new wells to meet compliance order

For six months the City of San Juan Bautista has been under a public health warning about high nitrate levels in the city’s water system. Now it looks like it could be another six months before the problem is fixed.

Since June 20 the city has advised locals with health conditions, infants and pregnant women to avoid consuming city water.

San Juan Bautista sent out the drinking water warning after a sample from the city’s water system, comprised of two wells, showed nitrate levels of 11.64 milligrams per liter. The maximum contaminant level allowed is 10 milligrams per liter.

The most recent water sample, taken in November, showed nitrate levels ranging from 8.58 to 13 milligrams per liter.

The historic town must also meet a compliance order issued last year by the State Water Resources Control Board that requires the city to construct a third water source due to a lack of redundancy in the system.

The compliance order complicates things as new developments like Rancho Vista, Copperleaf and Hillside Vistas come online, but are restricted from connecting to the city’s water system until the issues are resolved. All three developments will be served by the city water system once the two new wells are finished.

“We are working to provide the redundancy with two new wells,” Interim City Manager Ed Tewes said. “Although we must do so by October 2018, I anticipate the ‘moratorium’ on new connections will be lifted in the summer of 2018. The cost of the new wells will be paid by developers through their water connection fees or through the development agreement with Meritage Homes/Rancho Vista subdivision that provides for additional payment to address the city’s water issues.”

The city’s water system currently serves around 700 connections inside and outside city limits. The high nitrate levels stem from one of the city’s wells, known as Well Two. The contaminated well is 315 feet deep, which city officials have previously stated is considered shallow and makes the well susceptible to nitrates.

Well Two was also the source of a nitrate issue back in 2014, which the city was previously cited for violating the nitrate maximum contaminant level in June of that year. The state water board lifted their compliance order that November.

The city hasn’t been able to pinpoint the reason for the spike in nitrates in Well Two. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website states that nitrates can naturally occur in both surface and groundwater at a level that doesn’t generally cause health problems. High levels of nitrate in well water can stem from well location, improper well construction, overuse of chemical fertilizers or the improper disposal of human/animal waste.

Tewes said the city is required to have a robust, redundant supply system and is on track to fix the nitrate level problem by October next year.

“As soon as Well Five is online we can meet the nitrate portion of the compliance order,” Tewes said.

Water bottles are available for pickup at city hall. The city has also made available reverse osmosis-treated water that lets customers obtain up to five gallons of treated water per visit. The source of the treated water is next to the fire station on Polk Street.

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