BREAKING NEWS: Ephraim’s only backup well goes down
By James Tilson
EPHRAIM—Ephraim’s culinary well and only backup water source failed early Thursday morning, prompting city officials to order a ban on all outdoor watering in the city, effective immediately.
Bryan Kimball, city engineer, said he expected the ban to continue until the next growing season in the spring.
The city posted the following announcement on Thursday to its Facebook page, on doors of city hall and in business buildings around town: “Emergency Alert: Effective immediately, all outside watering is prohibited, including hand watering of gardens and flowers. The shaft in the city well snapped last night. The well is no longer functioning. The entire city water supply, including drinking water, is now completely dependent on the springs, which are extremely low. This is an emergency situation necessitating aggressive enforcement with citations issued.”
The shaft is a component of the well pump that brings water from inside the well to the surface. Kimball explained the well pump, which sits above ground and is more than 25 years old, had been working harder than usual all summer due to the drought conditions.
Last week, city workers noticed unusual noises coming from the pump. Public Works Director Chad Parry speculated it a ball bearing was getting ready to fail and scheduled Ralph Brotherson from Mt Pleasant, who drills water wills, to inspect the pump on Thursday.
But on Thursday morning, before the inspection could take place, the pump shaft extending into the well snapped, stopping all water production from the well. As of Thursday afternoon, city officials were still trying to determine exactly what happened.
The city ordinarily uses 4 million gallons of water per day. Even with the water restrictions imposed a couple of months ago, the city has been using 3 million gallons per day. Most years, a half dozen springs scattered near the summit of the Ephraim Canyon Road, with a few over the summit, produce an average of 4-5 million gallons per day.
But even in good years, the city must periodically turn on its well, which is located near 100 North and 400 West, during the summer because water demand increases and the springs slow down in the summer. But this year has been one of the driest in decades, and the springs are down to about a third of normal summer output to approximately 1.4 million gallons per day.
The summer drought has also affected the city well. Where the well was producing 1 million gallons per day at the beginning of the summer, it is now producing 720,000 gallons per day. But the well combined with the springs was still meeting water demand.
Now that the well is not available, the city must cut back drastically. Kimball said the city’s ordinary culinary usage should not be affected as long as people do not try to use culinary water for outdoor purposes like watering yards and washing cars.
Parry said that enforcement would have to be aggressive to get across of the seriousness of the situation. “We have to make sure that people understand we’re not messing around,” he said.
The city is looking at short-term and long-term solutions to the problem. In the short-term, the city believes it can obtain a temporary pump, which would enable some water to be pumped out of the well. Kimball thinks the temporary pump could be in place in one week to 10 days.
The longer term solution will be to replace the old pump. Kimball spent all day Thursday on the phone trying to confirm information and find possibilities.
He said if he could fund a pump “on the shelf,” rather than waiting for one to be custom built, a new pump could be in place in about a month.
In the meantime, the city will remove the old pump and take advantage of the cessation in production to examine the well shaft, clean it up and consider measures aside from bump replacement to maximize production.
In the back of all city officials’ minds is the worst case scenario—a forest fire in or near Ephraim Canyon that burns the city watershed.
Councilman John Scott alluded to that “nightmare” Wednesday at the city council meeting. The previous Saturday, a small fire in the canyon was quickly contained. But if it had started burning out of control, “it could have destroyed our watershed,” Scott said.
Scott related a conversation he had in March with the mayor of Panguitch following the Brian Head Fire last June. Scott said he was told that within 48 hours of the fire, e-coli began to appear in the town’s water sources.
After a fire, all the natural filtration systems of a forest are removed, Scott said, and all manner of contaminants appears in the water. The councilman said such a scenario keeps him up at night and would indeed be a disaster for Ephraim.
For the moment, Kimball hopes spreading the word about restrictions, along with quick action to replace the pump, can get the city through the crisis with a minimum of hardship.