MARION — The Marion Water Department plans to drill a new well this spring to supplement the Jordan aquifer, which now supplies the city with the majority of its water.
The well is to be drilled by late spring into the Silurian aquifer, at an estimated cost of $185,000, according to Todd Steigerwaldt, general manager of the Marion Water Department.
It is to be drilled near an existing Jordan well on Echo Hill Road.
The Water Board approved the plan at its Nov. 8 meeting. Project bids are due in December.
The well is part of a conservation plan to forestall possible water shortages as Marion grows and the level of the Jordan aquifer continues to decline.
The Jordan aquifer lies under the bedrock in about 80 percent of Iowa and provides water for about half a million Iowans.
Increased use of the aquifer’s water, combined with the slow rate at which the aquifer refills, has led to its depletion in the last century.
“Previously, if you wanted a well, they’d give you a well,” Steigerwaldt said of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. “It wasn’t too long ago that drought brought to light that the aquifer is not sustaining itself. The aquifer does refill over time, but the DNR did a radionuclide test of one of the atoms of the water molecule and found that it’s between 300,000 and 600,000 years old. That water just isn’t recovering.”
Unlike Cedar Rapids, which pumps water from wells along the Cedar River, municipalities across the state who tap into the Jordan are being affected by its depletion.
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The water level in the Jordan aquifer — which lies beneath Linn and Johnson counties — dropped more than 300 feet in the last century. Those lower levels are reported across the state.
In June 2015, the Iowa DNR and the U.S. Environmental Protection Commission changed the rules on wells that pump from the Jordan.
The old standard said that if a well has to be driller deeper than 200 feet, it no longer could be used.
Now, a more regulated tier system is in place to monitor existing Jordan wells, said Steigerwaldt, who led the task force for the rule change.
Though no Marion well has reached the stage where the city would be required to put a conservation plan in place, Steigerwaldt said one of the wells that taps into the Jordan is only about 40 years from reaching the tipping point.
And since Marion’s population and water usage continue to increase, Steigerwaldt said he foresees one or two other wells reaching the level where the department would have to look for a new source.
“It’s only a matter of time before it triggers that conservation plan,” he said. “We know we can’t solely rely on the Jordan aquifer. We can’t put the blinders on. We need to be proactive and look at other sources.”
The city enlisted Mike Gannon of the Iowa Geological Survey to find other sustainable water sources for the city.
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By testing multiple pumps throughout the city, Gannon found the Silurian aquifer, which covers much of northeast Iowa, is recharging at a faster rate than the Jordan and can provide a sustainable water source for a new well.
And while Marion only uses about half the 2 billion gallons of water it’s allotted each year by the DNR, the DNR is encouraging use of water from the Silurian.
By turning on an old, 430-foot-deep Silurian well that Marion built in the 1940s, and blending that water with a Jordan well, the city was able to get 13 percent to 15 percent of its water from the Silurian, Steigerwaldt said.
He hopes the city is able to increase that percentage by blending the new well’s Silurian water with another Jordan well.
Though Steigerwaldt hopes Marion residents find ways to conserve water, there’s no cause for worry.
“We are facing challenges just as any growing community faces challenges,” he said. “As we continue to grow, we need a new fire station or a bigger library.
“Don’t panic, stay proactive.”