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FAQ on Belle Plaine water

The City of Belle Plaine has prepared this information in a question-and-answer format in an effort to better help residents understand the issues confronting their water system.

When was the city notified of the Nitrate issue?

The city was notified of the issue on January 13, 2021 and a mailing was sent on January 14, 2021, following results of the January 5, 2021 test at the three water wells. One of the wells tested at a nitrate level of 12 mg/L. Federal standards for drinking water have set a maximum contaminant level of 10 mg/L for safe consumption. The testing by the state will be repeated quarterly as long as levels remain high and flyers will be mailed to notify residents of the issues. These were sent on Feb. 3, 2021 and April 13, 2021.

What are the dangers of nitrates above the maximum contaminant level?

The danger from nitrates is primarily for infants below the age of 6 months. Infants who drink water containing nitrates in excess of the maximum contaminant level could become seriously ill and, if untreated, may die. Symptoms include shortness of breath and blue baby syndrome. “Blue baby Syndrome” is the condition known as methemoglobinemia and the most obvious symptom is a bluish skin coloring, especially around the eyes and mouth. Other symptoms can include shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting and dizziness. An infant with bluish skin should be taken immediately to a medical facility for treatment. Water, juice, and formula for children under 6 months of age should not be prepared with tap water. Bottled water or other water low in nitrates should be used for infants until further notice.

How often is our water tested?

The wells are tested directly each year by a sample sent to a state lab. Tap water is tested each day for chlorine levels. The water is tested monthly for bacterial issues. The nitrate testing is normally done one time a year, but after it tests above the benchmark level, it is tested quarterly. The City is also taking samples to a private lab for testing between the state samples.

Is the water safe for others?

It is safe to bathe or shower in tap water with elevated nitrate levels. It is safe for most older children and adults to consume, but anyone with underlying health issues should consult their own physician for advice on consuming the water with nitrates.

Can you cook with the water?

It is odorless and tasteless and safe for cooking, but should not be boiled excessively as nitrates remain when the water evaporates. Boiling, freezing, filtering, or letting water stand will not reduce the nitrate level.

Will a reverse osmosis system remove the nitrates?

The CDC reports this at www.cdc.gov/healthywater/drinking/private/wells/disease/nitrate.html: “Nitrate may be successfully removed from water using treatment processes such as ion exchange, distillation, and reverse osmosis. Contact your local health department for recommended procedures. Heating or boiling your water will not remove nitrate. Because some of the water will evaporate during the boiling process, the nitrate levels of water can actually increase slightly in concentration if the water is boiled. Mechanical filters or chemical disinfection, such as chlorination, DO NOT remove nitrate from water.”

Carbon filters do not remove nitrates.

Does the city provide safe water for those in danger?

Yes, bottled water and gallon jugs of water from a company that has tested its products for safety is available at City Hall, 401 N. Merchant, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. Residents with infants and pregnant and nursing mothers can pick up the water during normal hours. Residents with a letter from a doctor stating that their health is at risk from the high nitrate levels can also have the bottled/jugs of water with presentation of that letter.

Does Belle Plaine have a history of nitrates in the water?

Until 2019 the nitrate levels tested well below the maximum. The problem, though, is prevalent among other cities in south central Kansas, and the use of commercial fertilizers is primarily taking the blame for the problem. Testing in 2019 was high after heavy rains, but dropped to normal percentages after a few months. The City took advice from Kansas Rural Water Association consultants and slowed the rate of pumping, along with changes in the depth of pumping to help find cleaner water.

Are all three water wells above the maximum contaminant level?

At the latest testing, two of our three wells were above the nitrate benchmark level. Those levels were unique to each well and not all of the wells have been high during each test. The water is not totally mixed from the three wells before it goes to the public for use. Some of the water is pumped directly to specific parts of town and some goes to the tower. As the City studies the improvements needed for the system, a plan to mix the water before it is distributed is part of the short-term solution for lowering the contaminant level. Shutting off the wells under nitrate warnings is not believed to be a viable solution, as the wells are close together in location and the change could easily pull the contaminants to the other well areas. Variable frequency drives were installed on the water pumps several years ago, which has helped reduce the level of contaminants. However, the pumps cannot be slowed more than their current operational level. The small water tower serving the city must be filled three times a day, on average, so the pumps must work fast enough to serve the tower.

Is the City Council looking for a better solution?

In March 2020, the City Council hired Wilson & Company, an engineering firm, to conduct a Preliminary Engineering Report on the water system. That report is in its final stages.

Under the guidance of the engineers, the City Council is looking at:

·         Demolition of two well houses, replacing the current pumps with new pumps at all three wells and adding supply piping from each well to a centralized location. Estimated cost is $1.5 - $1.8 million.

·         Replace the entire water distribution system with new piping, isolation valves and fire hydrants. Estimated cost is $6.0 - $7.0 million.

·         Create a blending/common chlorination point; demo the existing water storage tower, and add a new 300,000-gallon water storage tower.  Estimated cost is $1.5 - $1.75 million.

·         Build a centralized nitrate treatment facility. Estimated cost is $2.5 - $2.8 million.

After initial consultation with state officials in April 2021, it is anticipated that the project will be completed in two phases of construction. The first phase begins with the treatment plant, tower, supply and partial distribution system work. The second phase would complete the remaining distribution system work. Based upon potential funding sources, construction may not begin until early 2023 and may not be completed before July 2025. All plans at this point are subject to change and are not considered final as applications for funding are still pending.

How do we pay for $12 - $13 million in projects?

The state of Kansas, Department of Commerce, and United States Department of Agriculture offer several options in financing and grants for water systems. Those agencies, through the Kansas Interagency Advisory Committee (KIAC), meet with applicants to guide them through the process and address any issues the community is facing in the application process. Belle Plaine has already held an informal pre-KIAC with state officials. Since the actual funding for Belle Plaine has yet to be determined, Wilson and Co. has provided potential costs, based on several different funding scenarios. To pay for those scenarios, Belle Plaine water rates (for 5,000 gallons of water used) could range between $62 and $90. Currently, Belle Plaine residents (in town) pay $40 for 5,000 gallons of water.

Are there up-front costs for the city?

Before the city can apply for the grants and loans, the engineering plans for the work must be complete. With all associated costs, the city could need nearly $800,000 in advance of the permanent financing. Much of the up-front costs are reimbursable in the final financing, but if the state/federal grants and funding are not acquired, the city would be responsible for the up-front costs.

Why tear down the historically significant water tower?
The current water tower was built in 1913 and is historically significant to the community. Unfortunately, it is not feasible to maintain the standing structure for posterity. The Kansas State Historical Society has a process for documenting the history of the tower before it is demolished. The city of Belle Plaine will follow those procedures.

Where will the tower and treatment plant be placed?

The city continues to look for optimum places for each. The cost of piping necessitates a location close to the city, but the treatment plant does require acreage and must be at least 500 feet away from a current development.

What is the condition of the current tower:

An inspection of the tower was held this year, with immediate repairs quoted at $12,500 in cost. All work necessary for the tower would be in an estimated $190,000 to $215,000 range.  The inspection report can be seen by clicking here.


Belle Plaine Kansas,
Apr 23, 2021, 12:20 PM
Belle Plaine Kansas,
Apr 23, 2021, 12:45 PM