Part 2 - What's in the Water: Concerns continue to bubble up in Brandon

By  | 

BRANDON, S.D. (KSFY) - Health concerns about radium in the water, supply and storage issues continue to boil over in Brandon.

Stockwell Engineers, the city's engineering firm said, it's been recommending a connection to an outside water source for years. The options -- Lewis and Clark, the City of Sioux Falls and Minnehaha County Water Corporation (MCWC).

"Our recommendation has been to connect to MCWC because of the close proximity to Brandon and the conversations that we've had with them in the past," Jon Brown, president of Stockwell Engineers, said.

KSFY News reporter Erika Leigh dug through the 229-page 2013 Comprehensive Water Study and couldn't find any of them. The recommendations for water sources in that report she found were to, "do nothing," and "new wells," on page 27.

Leigh reached out to Brown to ask if she missed it somewhere in the report. In an email late Tuesday, he said that connections to other water providers -- because of necessary plant upgrades in order to do that -- were not part of the scope of the 2013 study.

Stockwell Engineers did make that recommendation, however, in an update at the Oct. 10 special water meeting that was held in Brandon.

"Lewis and Clark is probably the farthest away from us," Brown said. "A direct connection to them is the farthest away."

Many other nearby communities get water from Lewis and Clark and MCWC. While Lewis and Clark isn't the most feasible option at this point, one community can attest to its water quality. The City of Harrisburg just won an award for the state's best tasting water.

"We participated in a statewide water sample testing -- tasting -- and we won that competition up in Pierre, " Andrew Pietrus, Harrisburg city cdministrator said. "And now we'll be sending samples to Washington, D.C."

Harrisburg hooked up to Lewis and Clark in July of 2012, after deciding to stop pulling water from a well in a 50-foot shallow aquifer in the Big Sioux Aquifer, one Brandon also pulls from.

"We were pulling water out of the Big Sioux River and treating it on our own and we knew that system was starting to age out so it just made sense to look towards a new water source," Pietrus said.

"They made that decision before I was here, but they also made that decision before we had an inkling of any growth," Pietrus said.

As other communities realized nearby aquifers were becoming unsustainable, Brandon stuck with the Split Rock Creek Aquifer and the Big Sioux Aquifer wells. The city had opportunities to tie into Lewis and Clark twice -- once in 1993 and again in 2000 -- but the city council took no action.

Lewis and Clark has worked well for Harrisburg, but Pietrus said he's not sure what he'd do if he were working in Brandon.

"It's really hard to compare city to city system to systems. Some cities are dealing with aging systems, while dealing with growth," Pietrus said. "You always feel like you lose a little bit of control when you let some other entity provide a service that you view the city should we doing in the first place."

The connection to MCWC is possible, but can't happen as quickly as many would like.

"The city of Brandon is still disinfecting its water with chlorine. All the rural water systems are using a chloramine which is just a different process -- the disinfection has a longer residual," Brown said. "Not only that, but we can't blend the two together -- so we have to make some modifications to our treatment plant and treatment process in order to expand and connect."

But that's just additional water supply. Brown said if the city wanted to buy all of its water from MCWC it would take some infrastructure improvements.

"We're not fully aware of what that is. That's something we'd have to work out with MCWC but they have told us there are going to be some improvements to provide us with a larger amount of water," Brown said.

Now the city and its homeowners have some big decisions to make. As the population continues to grow in Brandon, it'll have to find clean sustainable water sources add additional water storage and upgrade its treatment facility and distribution system -- whether for treating and distributing its own water or tying into someone else's.

"It's important that the city of Brandon moves forward with investigating additional sources regardless of what direction they decide to go, it's very important they continue looking at that," Brown said.

And in the meantime, he insists the water is safe.

"The water in Brandon is safe, the water that's going through the system at this point has been treated," Brown said.

And if you're concerned about your water ...

"Engaging with local politicians and utilities to voice your concerns and figure out ways to implement water quality infrastructure will be the most long term and suitable solution for effective protective health measurement," Dr. Alexis Tempkin, a toxicologist for the Environmental Working Group said.

The Brandon water committee will continue meeting and making recommendations to the city council.

It recently recommended the city put out a request for proposal (RFP) for all water-related projects and said the city can go ahead with designing -- but not building-- the two proposed water towers on each side of town.

We've reached out to many city leaders during our months of covering this story. Only council member Don Wells -- who is in charge of the water committee -- spoke with us in a previous story.

About two months ago, one of the other people we reached out to was council member Jon McInerney and were unable to arrange an interview time. After another Brandon water story aired without hearing from him, he sent KSFY an email criticizing our coverage of this story. In response, we again offered him a chance to speak with us on camera and have not heard back.

If you want to know what's in your water -- the Environmental Working Group has a website where you can type in your zip code and find out -- as well as find out what kind of a filter you'll need to get rid of those contaminants. That link is under "related links."