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February 18, 2020

1/7/2020 7:30:00 AM
Water worries: Alderperson wonders if city wells could handle major fire

Heather Schaefer
Associate Editor

With two municipal wells out of service due to per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) contamination, a question was raised during the December meeting of the Rhinelander Common Council regarding the capacity of the three remaining wells to provide enough water to extinguish a major fire should the city experience such an emergency.

The topic was raised by City Council president George Kirby during discussion of the wastewater department's latest report to the council.

"If we had a real major fire, would we have a problem?" Kirby asked city wastewater foreman Jim Gossage.

"Anything's possible, we could have a problem" Gossage replied. "It would be nice to work with DNR to discuss well 7 and 8 to be put back on in case of emergency," he added.

Mayor Chris Frederickson noted that there had been a discussion with the DNR that morning, Dec. 9, "as far as the possibility of how to handle well 7 and 8 as (temporary) emergency backup ..."

"A few different things were discussed," the mayor said, adding that further discussions between the city and the DNR were expected.

According to Gossage, the three city wells currently online "are pumping below rate capacity and could be turned up a bit if needed."

"Currently, we're pumping 9 to 10 hours a day, there is more capacity," he said.

"Another fact of the shutdown of (wells) 7 and 8, 7 and 8's combined percentage contribution to the system was only 23 percent," he added. "So 7 and 8 did not contribute a large amount to the system."

City well #7 was taken offline in June after samples of the water showed PFAS levels above the EPA's health advisory (70ng/L) and the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) recommended groundwater standard level (20 ng/L). Municipal well #8, which is located near #7, was taken offline in November when the same chemicals were detected in samples from that source.

PFAS are man-made chemicals that have been used in non-stick cookware, water-repellent clothing, stain resistant fabrics and carpets, some cosmetics, firefighting foam, and products that resist grease, water and oil. Recent scientific findings indicate that exposure to certain PFAS may have harmful health effects in people. According to the EPA, exposure to some PFAS substances above certain levels may increase the risk of adverse health effects, such as thyroid disease, low birthweights and cancer.

Below is information submitted by Gossage to the council regarding pumpage statistics for city wells 4, 5 and 6. GPM stands for gallons per minute.

• Well #5 is pumping 1200 gpm. Design capacity as listed in wellhead protection plan is 1700 gpm. Lately it has been running 5-7 hours per day.

• Well #4 is pumping 1100 gpm. Design capacity as listed in wellhead protection plan is 1700 gpm. Lately it has been running 7-10 hours per day.

• Well #6 is pumping 880 gpm. Design capacity as listed in wellhead protection plan is 1000 gpm. Lately it has been running 9-10 hours per day.

• Well #8 was pumping 320 gpm. Design capacity as listed in the wellhead protection plan is 400 gpm. In April of 2019 it ran about 6 hours per day.

• Well #7 was pumping 460 gpm. Design capacity as listed in wellhead protection plan is 500 gpm. Looking back on a MOR report it ran about 10 hours per day in April of 2019.

Gossage also included statistics on peak flows in his report.

• As far as winter peak flows, March of 2014 averaged to 2,527,867 gallons per day. (Run water order) Compare to March of 2018 at 1,580,500 gallons per day.

• As far as summer peak flows, I've pulled and compared June, July and August of 2018. June 2018 68,348,000 total pumpage or 2,278,266 gallons per day

• July 2018 64,004,000 total pumpage or 2,064,645 gallons per day

• Aug. 2018 61,093,000 total pumpage or 1,970,742 gallons per day

"Other issues that would affect usage include: Fires, water main breaks, pump, motor or control failures," the report states.

Heather Schaefer may be reached at

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