Town near Ellsworth AFB assures public of ample water supply amid PFAS concerns and base growth
BOX ELDER, S.D. (Tribune News Service) — Box Elder has two water wells under production to prepare for continued growth in the community adjacent to Ellsworth Air Force Base, according to city officials.
Public Works Director Doug Curry said the first of the two wells — the city's fifth active one — is anticipated to go online near the end of this year.
"Quantity and quality is not an issue for the city of Box Elder," Curry said of the water supply at a press conference on Tuesday at City Hall.
Nicole Schneider, city administrator and chief financial officer, said they've heard concerns about whether the city will be able to provide quality water for development even though it has received awards for the past 12 years for the quality of its drinking water.
"We want to make sure (residents) can drink water and use water within their city limits with confidence because we work hard to give them the best water possible," Schneider said.
A well survey by Ellsworth Air Force Base released in 2018 identified nine private wells south of the base that had concentrations of two perfluorinated compounds above the Environmental Protection Agency's health advisory limits.
The study found the base used perfluorooctonoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) in firefighting foam used at the base to combat petroleum-based fires.
According to a January 2019 Journal report, the study found that hundreds of residents had water contaminated with per and plyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) at levels 10 times what the Environmental Protection Agency deemed safe. The substances infiltrated 26 private wells within two miles southeast of the base. Of the 26, 15 of the wells had the high-level PFAS substance.
The wells that had the contamination were outside of Box Elder city limits, Marketing Director Jimmy Dettman said Tuesday. The city's wells are about 4,900 feet below the surface and supplied by the Madison Aquifer.
Curry said the water has such high quality that the city doesn't treat it other than injecting some fluoride and a little chlorine before it moves into storage tanks.
Box Elder is digging the two additional wells that will also pull from the Madison Aquifer. The first would hold about 1.5 million gallons of water with hopes the second well's storage would have the same capacity.
Dettman said the city has seen an annual population increase of 8-10% since 2016. He said the B-21 Raider base expansion to Ellsworth will increase the military population alone by 3,147 people.
The base expansion is expected to bring about 7,000 additional residents to Box Elder. According to a July 2019 population estimate, the city had a population of 10,119.
Kyle Treloar, vice president of Dream Design International of Rapid City, said developers typically look at water quality before starting a plan. He said they look through state databases and look at a city's testing reports.
Dream Design International is the developer of the Liberty Center and Liberty Plaza in Box Elder, which will bring 224 townhouses, 84 single-family homes and about 400,000 square feet of retail and office space with three levels of loft apartments.
"In this case, we have 110 acres actively in development in Box Elder right now, which we don't have any concerns that we're not going to have that water," Treloar said. "We've got the assurance that the capacity is there through new wells, through storage tanks that we will have that available to us, and not just us but all the other developments and the existing citizens in Box Elder."
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