11/6/2011 6:00:00 AM
What's in your drinking water?

Butch Meriwether
Butch's Brew

I was talking with Mike at the nursery in Golden Valley and our conversation drifted to wells.

Mike told me his well is about 1,000 feet deep, produces about 11 to 13 gallons per minute and the water coming out of it is about 96 degrees Fahrenheit. He further told me that the water temperature of all of the neighbors' wells is also about 96 degrees Fahrenheit. I thought the extremely warm water temperature was a little strange because I hadn't heard of any geothermal activity in Golden Valley or the surrounding area.

The warm well water spurred me to do some research to figure out the reasoning for hot water being pumped out of local wells.

I didn't find the exact answer related to the water temperature, but I did discover a 1999 government study that indicated 67 wells or test sites in the Sacramento Valley Groundwater Basin had been tested and the temperature of the water coming out of the test sites ranged from 54.752 degrees Fahrenheit sampled from a spring near the foothills of the Hualapai Mountains east of I-40 and Yucca, to a whopping 108.356 degrees Fahrenheit temperature from a 720-foot well just north of Topock.

There were seven springs in various areas of the SVGB. The deepest well, located in Golden Valley north of Highway 68, goes to 1,355 feet, with the water level at 820 feet and a water temperature of 97.196 degrees Fahrenheit.

Some of the wells located within the 1,587 square-mile SVGB tested during 1999 contained elements and compounds that exceeded the proposed Primary Maximum Contaminant Levels established by Arizona Department of Environmental Quality. Seventeen out of 67 test wells or sites contained uranium, four wells contained radium 226+228, and another nasty compound called perchlorate was discovered in four wells.

What is radium 226+228? The simplest answer is that radium emits several different kinds of radiation, specifically alpha particles and gamma rays. Long-term exposure to radium increases the risk of developing lymphoma, bone cancer, and diseases that affect the formation of blood, such as leukemia and aplastic anemia, a condition where bone marrow does not produce sufficient new cells to replenish blood cells. Exposure to radium's gamma radiation increases the risk of cancer to varying degrees in all tissues and organs. And the other nasty chemical compound called perchlorate can disrupt the thyroid's ability to produce hormones needed for normal growth and development.

Not all of the other elements, chemicals and/or compounds that were found in some of the 67 wells or test sites in 1999 are bad for your health, but some are potentially dangerous.

• Arsenic concentrations compromise the initial immune response to H1N1 or swine flu infection, according to some scientists.

• Antimony can cause headaches, dizziness, and depression in small doses, and in larger doses can damage the kidneys and the liver, causing violent and frequent vomiting.

• Barium can affect the nervous system, causing cardiac irregularities, tremors, weakness, anxiety, shortness of breath and paralysis.

• Nitrates are generally associated with septic systems, confined animal feeding operations or fertilizer use and can interfere with the ability of red blood cells to carry oxygen to the tissues of the body, producing a condition called methemoglobinemia.

• Chromium compounds used in dyes and paints and the tanning of leather.

• Radon, the No. 1 cause of lung cancer among non-smokers.

The most interesting thing I discovered in the 1999 study: The 1,355-foot well is isomorphic to groundwater samples determined to be a mixture of Colorado River and local recharge. The study raises the question of whether and/or how the possible recharge of the deep SVGB could be from the Colorado River. The study even alludes to the possibility the course of the Colorado River was originally through Detrial Valley (north of Golden Valley) and Sacramento Valley, and possibly exited into the present-day course of the Colorado River at Topock.

After speaking with officials for the various water companies and water districts, it was determined they believe the water in the underground lake beneath SVGB is warmed by the Earth's core and geothermal activity.

I believe many of the questions relating to the SVGB aquifer that are continually raised by residents of Golden Valley and the surrounding areas could be unequivocally answered if the U.S. government would fly a large aircraft over Lake Mead and drop a giant purple pill into it. If the water that comes out of our taps and from our wells in SVGB has a purple tint to it, then we all would know the source for recharging of SVGB - the Colorado River.

People interested in learning more about the 1999 Ambient Groundwater Quality of the Sacramento Valley Basin Baseline Study and the quality of the water can go to http://www.azdeq.gov/environ/water/assessment/download/ofr-01-04.pdf for the entire text of the report.

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