Matanuska-Susitna Borough

Proposed prison site gushes with water

Mat-Su | Patty Sullivan | Sunday, April 29, 2007

PALMER— An aquifer beneath the preferred prison site near Point MacKenzie gushes with enough water for the project.

A recent test well produced 265 gallons of water per minute. During the test, the water receded 25 feet over a 10-hour period. When the pumping ceased, the draw down recovered within five minutes, proving a fast-replenishing water supply. The well hit water at 415 feet.

"When we get a well that pumps almost 16,000 gallons an hour for 10 hours and recovers in five minutes, that's tons of water," said Ron Swanson, community development director.

The water tests remove the last major hurdle for the site selection of the state's largest prison. With these findings, the Point MacKenzie site will be the prison site. It occupies about 200 acres north of Alsop Road and is located nine miles from Port Mackenzie.

Generally prisons use about 110 gallons of water per day per inmate. The maximum number of inmates at the coming facility would be 2,251, who would use about 250,000 gallons per day.

The well test was done with a smaller casing and less powerful pump than what will actually be used in the production wells. Based on the findings the engineers recommend drilling two or three wells, which will produce more than the ideal amount of water while also providing a redundant source.

Preliminary results for water quality tests show nothing outside normal variations for the MAT-SU area. The water source bears salt, but the water is treatable with a reverse osmosis process. The arsenic levels are higher than the new EPA standards. Results show 23 and 24 micrograms per liter of arsenic. In 2006 the EPA lowered its maximum contaminant level for arsenic from 50 micrograms per liter to 10 micrograms per liter. For the previous 50 years the higher level was acceptable. Treatment of the water will be required. Such treatment of water is not unusual for commercial and public facilities throughout the Borough.

Lynn Lowman with the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation Drinking Water Program regulates public water systems. "It's not uncommon to find arsenic in groundwater here," Lowman said. "It is best described as like fine gold dust in various pockets in the substrata."

Arsenic levels can fluctuate, Lowman said. "We had high arsenic in the Goose Bay area, then a big earthquake in 2002 lowered arsenic levels. However the levels are back and rising. Lowman said that with the reduced maximum contaminant level, about 15 to 20 public water systems from Palmer to Big Lake now have arsenic levels that exceed the standards and may be required to install treatment.

Ample documents and FAQs on the prison project remain on the Borough Web site under "projects."

For more information contact Community Development Director Ron Swanson at (907) 745-9868 or Public Affairs Manager Patty Sullivan at (907) 745-9577.