COLUMBIA — When you turn on a faucet, the water you get is probably coming from the Missouri River bottoms near McBaine, where the city of Columbia has its treatment plant and wells. A local task force has been meeting for the past year to come up with a long-term plan to help ensure the city's drinking water remains safe. Here's some information about what the group has been up to:
What is the Source Water Protection Plan Task Force?
The task force is a group of city staffers that has been looking into what the city can do to keep its drinking water safe. The group has been working on a plan to help guide future changes to Columbia's drinking water system and identify any potential threats to water quality.
What threats to Columbia's drinking water did the task force identify?
Using too much water: If Columbia pulls water up from wells faster than the water supply can replenish itself, the city might have to drill more, deeper wells. This increases the cost of pumping water and also means the underground area influencing the water coming out of the well gets larger. This could negatively affect water quality because the larger this "area of influence" is, the more potential contaminants there are for a given well.
Recommendation: Adopt a policy of conserving and using less water.
- Water from the city's wastewater treatment wetlands leaking into the aquifer that provides drinking water: The city's treatment wetlands are near the wells where the city gets its drinking water. Some of the wells have shown high levels of chloride, which could indicate there is some interaction between the wastewater treatment wetlands and the city's wells.
Recommendation: To help stave off this problem, the task force recommended "diligent" inspection and maintenance of wetland cells and continual testing of the wells for tracer chemicals like chloride.
- The nearby wetlands Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area: The wetlands are periodically flooded with treated city wastewater that could infiltrate underground water near city wells. The high chloride levels could also be indicative of this water making its way to the city's well field in the McBaine Bottoms.
Recommendation: Changing the way the wastewater treatment plant treats the water before it flows through the wetlands.
- Malicious tampering with wells: If someone put contaminants in one of the city's wells, or dumped them in nearby, it could affect water from that well and other wells.
Recommendation: To avoid this problem, the task force recommended the city put fences up around the wells and put up signs warning against contaminating the wells.
- Pesticides and herbicides getting into wells. Chemicals used on farms can get into the aquifer when rain washes the soil and its chemicals away. The task force suggested the city continue working with Boone County to pass ordinances restricting chemical use in the area.
Recommendation: Continue educational efforts with landowners about protecting groundwater in the McBaine Bottoms.
What other changes did the task force recommend?
- Recycling old abandoned wells in Columbia: Before the city started getting its water from the McBaine Bottoms, it pulled water from a limestone formation beneath Columbia. The city stopped getting its water from these 10 wells in the 1970s, after water use outpaced the amount of water the limestone aquifer could supply. Instead of pouring concrete down the old wells and officially abandoning them, the task force is recommending that the city reuse them.
- The task force will present the plan to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, Columbia City Council and the Boone County Local Emergency Planning Committee.
- The task force will then give the plan to Columbia Water and Light, so it can decide how to go forward with the different recommendations.