Challis drinking water failed to meet turbidity standards set by the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality, which Mayor Mike Barrett attributed to technical issues.
The city’s water gets tested every month, and for three days straight the Challis clear well, which is slowly becoming the city’s main source of water while two subterranean wells are repaired, came back with turbidity levels above 1 percent. Turbidity measures how clear water is, and the goal is to keep it below 1 percent, Barrett explained.
Usually, the clear well’s turbidity tracks at 0.1 or 0.2 percent, Barrett said.
The department slapped Challis with a technical violation, which Barrett said is a fair reprimand given what occurred.
“It’s not a health violation, per se,” Barrett said. “It’s mostly an aesthetic thing.”
The turbidity test failed because of upgrades to the clear well, according to the mayor. That well was the city’s original drinking water source till three underground wells were drilled. In order to track the cleanliness of the clear well as it’s been turned on during the last few weeks, city workers began using a new electronic system that provided real-time data on the cleanliness of the water. That included using an infrared light to scan the water for particulates. Barrett said that was dirty when it came time to test the water, which made the water appear dirtier than usual.
City workers manually tested the clear well water after the botched examination. Those tests showed turbidity to be at acceptable levels. When the mayor and city employees contacted the tracking system manufacturer to understand what was going on, they were told the glass lens on the infrared scanner needs to be cleaned regularly in order to provide accurate data.
The lens was cleaned and the turbidity tested again, showing levels were acceptable, Barrett said.
“I think it was more there’s a steep learning curve with new equipment,” the mayor said. “I’m not dismissing what happened, but it’s part of the process sometimes.”
Barrett said he tried to explain the situation to the state and they were somewhat understanding. However, the fact remains the data the city gave the department showed high turbidity levels.
The DEQ requires city officials to notify the public as soon as possible after failing a turbidity test. Barrett said he understands the people who have come to his office with bottles of cloudy water were looking out for the health of their community.
Barrett pledged going forward he and city workers will keep a better eye on the town’s drinking water.