Running dry

DEQ investigating mystery of dry or acidic water wells in Carlile area

By Sarah Pridgeon

Why are water wells in the Carlile area suddenly drying up or producing overly acidic water? The Department of Environmental Quality isn’t sure, but has launched an effort to find out.

It’s a problem that appeared suddenly, says Lily Lee, Groundwater Section Manager, and at this point the DEQ does not yet have the answers.

“We received notice from some private well owners in the area that had either identified that their private wells had gone dry or they identified low pH levels, between a 3.3 and a 4.0,” Lee says. A neutral pH level is around 7.0.

Grace Moore photo
A well located near Carlile that until recently yielded 15 gallons of water per minute and served four households, but now stands inexplicably dry.

“We were notified of this towards the middle of August.”

 

Overnight problem

Two wells in the Carlile area dried up quite literally overnight, according to a local landowner who requested not to be named. From a comfortable 15 gallon per minute output, the main well ceased to produce water at all.

At first thinking the issue was related to the pump, the landowner installed a replacement. Doing so made no difference and the back-up well, which sits around 4000 feet away, was found to be similarly dry.

The two wells have run without issue for a little over 17 years. Without them, water will be a dilemma before too long as the above-ground cistern and valve system become difficult to access once the snow begins to fall. The two wells serve four homes, all of which may need to be vacated over the winter.

Drilling further down to the next formation is also not a sensible option, says the landowner, until there is some certainty over what is causing the water to run acidic. It appears clear that the top formation below the alluvial wells is contaminated with something that is dropping the pH levels, but it’s unknown at present whether the next formation down is also contaminated.

 

Testing the Water

DEQ representatives hosted a public meeting in Moorcroft on Thursday to connect directly with residents in and around Carlile who may have noticed problems with their water supply.

“The purpose of the meeting was to come up and identify if there were any additional landowners that were experiencing any kind of water quality or water quantity issues and introduce that we will be sampling,” Lee says.

“We were also looking for access to additional wells to sample them to see what the current status is of the wells in the area.”

Five wells in the area are known to be experiencing problems, but around 14 landowners have already responded to the DEQ’s request for access, Lee confirms, with several others taking survey forms away with them.

“They may not be experiencing any issues, but are interested in being part of the study area,” she explains.

Testing to ascertain the extent of the problem and hopefully find its cause is expected to begin immediately.

“We’re developing a scope of work to go out there and sample the wells where we’re permitted to do so and evaluate the current conditions that exist out there,” Lee says.

“We are also looking at potential sources for the pH issue and to try to identify a path forward to get these property owners water that is not low in pH.”

The scope of work will be issued this week, Lee says, and a contractor will be brought in to undertake the testing. Sampling is expected to begin within the next couple of weeks and the DEQ is hoping to receive results from those samples in around four to six weeks.

 

Unknown Cause

Until those results are in, the DEQ cannot confirm what is causing the wells to run dry or acidic. At this time, says Lee, it’s not possible to speculate.

“Some of the questions we asked were whether landowners had identified any spills or releases or illegal dumping,” she says.

“There are some activities going on in the area that could be related – mainly there’s oil and gas production, possibly water supply well construction activity. There are some different items that we are looking into.”

If residents around the Carlile area are aware of any activity that may have contributed to the issue or would like to provide permission for the DEQ to sample their wells, Lee invites you to contact her at lily.lee@wyo.gov.

The DEQ welcomes questions or information, says Lee, and will be creating a listserv to provide information as it becomes available. A website is also in development.

To be added to the listserv, contact keith.guille@wyo.gov. A follow-up meeting will be held once the test results are in, says Lee.