ELK RIDGE, Utah County — City officials have scheduled an emergency meeting Thursday to answer concerns from residents and business operators about a five-week prohibition on any outdoor watering due to an equipment failure involving the city's main source of water.
The problem with the bearings on the well casing, or pipe, were discovered Monday in the 800-foot deep well and led to its shutdown. When operational, the well delivers 1,700 gallons per minute to users in the community of 3,500 residents.
"We don't know why it happened," Mayor Hal Shelley said Wednesday. "We do know that the bearings stopped being efficient as they could be, but we don't know why it was compromised."
Although the city has a second well at Loafer Canyon, Shelley said its capacity is less than half of the idled well, and water needs to be conserved for indoor consumption and for public safety purposes such as fire suppression.
Shelley said he hopes to have more answers for residents on a repair timeline at the 8 p.m. Thursday meeting at the LDS Church building at 185 E. Ridgeview Drive. The mayor said he's been told it may take as long as five weeks before the well returns to service.
"There is a possibility we could ration water on a neighborhood by neighborhood basis so people can maintain their lawns a bit, but we don't have that information yet," he said, adding that officials were meeting Wednesday to discuss options.
The city has also reached out to Salem and Payson for support.
Salem Mayor Randy Brailsford said the city will allow Elk Ridge to siphon some of its water with a tanker from one of the city's hydrants to provide water on an emergency basis to residents with new lawns or other freshly planted vegetation.
"That's what neighbors do," Brailsford said.
Salem had its own problems with a well when a pump went out a few years back, he said.
"We were holding our breath," Brailsford said, but the city was able to avoid an interruption in service.
Elk Ridge's problem well is 12 years old and feeds off an aquifer via a pump that is 575 feet underground.
Shelley said repairs will be time-consuming because the well casing has bearings about every 20 feet that will need to be checked. Two years ago, the city rebuilt the motor on the pump but was able to keep water flowing to residents because of a temporary replacement motor that was available.
Shelley said the city performs weekly maintenance checks at the well, but he suspects the pump will have to be replaced. He estimated the repair bill for the well at $60,000.
The city, like the rest of Utah County, has been experiencing rapid growth. Shelley said the option of adding a secondary irrigation system was explored a couple of years ago, but the city determined it was too costly.
Engineers had a test well drilled about a month ago in an ongoing effort to boost water supply capacity and add redundancy to the culinary system, he added, but the results from that hydrological survey are not yet in.
"We know there is water there from the same aquifer, but we don't know how much and we don't know what quality," Shelley said.
In addition to the outdoor watering ban, city water users are also being asked to curtail their indoor consumption as much as possible so the community can get through the coming weeks.
"I understand their anger and frustration, but there is a tremendous amount of work going into this. Without them being on the scene, it is really hard for people to comprehend," the mayor said, emphasizing the complexities of a municipal water system.
"Hopefully they can get some understanding and be patient and we can work together and conserve," he said.
David Griffiths, who is just moving into Elk Ridge, said he's worried about his property.
"With the new move, what I want to do is green it up," he said. "I'm afraid it is actually going to wither up and die. Five weeks is a long time, especially in this heat."
Resident Jon Anderson said he looks at it as an opportunity to get out of lawn mowing.
"If it goes desert style, that's OK with me," he said.
Contributing: Jed Boal
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