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TCEQ investigating toxic Lakehills well

By Carolyn B Edwards BCC Staff Writer

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) Impact Evaluation Team is currently conducting an investigation of a newly drilled well in the Lakehills area that tested positive for a variety of toxic elements.

According to a letter sent to TCEQ's Richard Garcia by Bandera County River Authority and Groundwater District's (BCRAGD) General Manager Dave Mauk, a water sample taken from the well by BCRAGD showed a pH of nearly 12. "That's bleach," Mauk said. Groundwater in Bandera County usually tests with a pH of 7.5 to 8.2. The complaint was received by TCEQ Jan. 11, 2012.

As a result of the high pH, the BCRAGD took a water sample on Nov. 21, 2011, from the well and sent it to the Lower Colorado River Authority's Environmental Laboratory Services in Austin where it was tested for volatile compounds.

The analysis showed the presence of toluene, acetone, trichlorethene, carbon disulfide, MEK, and tetrahydrofuran. Two other samples were taken subsequently and the levels had dropped, but the volatile organic compounds were still detected.

According to Mauk's letter, the driller indicated he had "hit a shallow zone of water at approximately 30 feet." The well was ultimately drilled down to 710 feet.

After 24 hours, the completed well was cased, gravel packed and cemented, "effectively sealing off that shallow production zone."

Mauk theorized that the pollutants were possibly in the 30-foot shallow zone, which then contaminated the deeper water source during the 24 hours before casing and sealing occurred.

Also found near the well site were several rusted drums. "They did not appear to have been used for floating docks," Mauk said. There were 15-20 old drums revealed due to the low lake level.

The area near the well is notorious as a dump site, with numerous piles of construction refuse. "There's no way to know what has been dumped in that area for 40 years," said Mauk.

Mauk also stated in his letter to TCEQ that "many of the wells in the area are either not cased or inadequately cased. We believe this pollution could become a serious public health problem and the source of this pollution needs to be identified and removed."

The property owner has been advised by BCRAGD not to use the water from the well at this time.

The well is located at 111 32nd Street in Lakehills.

As of press time, Mauk was waiting for a final report from TCEQ. "I get the impression that they believe the levels are low enough not to be a public safety hazard."

The options facing the BCRAGD involve testing neighboring wells to see if the pollution has spread. "We also want to try to identify the source of the pollution," said Mauk. The BCRAGD may also consider drilling a monitor well in the area to keep tabs on the water quality. "The pH was still at 12 [Feb. 10], which makes us think it's still down there," said Mauk.

TCEQ does not, according to its website, regulate private wells.

Mauk said the TCEQ may however take a look at all of the illegal dumps in that area.

Karen Ripley, who represents the Lakehills area on the board of the BCRAGD, said since she lives in the immediate area of the contaminated well, she has personal concerns. "But that's what our river authority looks out for. It's real important that we protect our water quality. This is why [BCRAGD] tests wells."

Although the BCRAGD may get little satisfaction or assistance in remediating the situation from TCEQ, Ripley said, "We're not giving up on it. We have to protect our water resources and our people." The bottom line, said Ripley was to find the source of the contamination. "Those chemicals should never have been there," she said.

Ripley expressed her concern about the illegal dumping that has been going on in her neighborhood and at other sites around Medina Lake for 50-75 years and continues today.

"Garbage collection [in Lakehills] is not extant. [If you use the county's services] you have to sort it, you have to pay for it," said Ripley. "The reality is that some cannot afford it, so they dump it."

While illegally dumping the old fridge and computer may have a short-term benefit for the dumper, "There is a long term cost for everyone," she added. "We have 50 years of old oil drums and other chemicals out there."

Ripley praised the people who spend time cleaning up the area. "We have a lot of people who work hard to clean up a spot and next week someone has dumped there again. It's a losing proposition."