Darcy McCaughey and her family live in the middle of an area in Nikiski that will soon be the subject of a groundwater modeling study.
So, when the company that will undertake the study gave a presentation at a recent community council meetings, McCaughey was one of the first to volunteer her drinking water well for testing.
At least four other private landowners in the area have given hydrologists and geologists with DOWL HKM, the company contracted by the Kenai Peninsula Borough to track groundwater movement in the area. Their data will be added to a model that, thus far, has about 140 other sources of data, according to project geologists.
Eventually, the mode should show groundwater flow, depth and direction in an area of Nikiski that has long been speculated to contain several sources of groundwater contamination.
“There’s a lot of uproar over water,” McCaughey said. “Often people are willing to talk and they aren’t willing to help. I’m just doing my little part to help people figure it all out.”
A lot of the talk about the groundwater quality in Nikiski was rekindled when Texas-based AIMM Technologies proposed and ultimately built a waste disposal site on a 1.5 acre plot that will store up to 10 million gallons of petroleum drilling waste at the end of Halliburton Drive.
During the 15 month process of getting the project permitted, area residents expressed concern that the site would join or affect a neighboring piece of land known as the Arness Septage site. At the septage site, Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation officials have said that at least 4,200 gallons of oil-contaminated waste, sludge and other pollutants were improperly stored.
No one knows the extent of the pollution and how much of it got into the groundwater.
The Arness Septage site is included in the area to be surveyed. In addition, data from six wells built by AIMM Technologies are to be included in the model. However, project planners stressed that they would not be testing for pollutants.
“This study is not to show whether there is contamination in the area,” said DOWL HKM Public Involvement Manager Rachel Steer during the Monday meeting. “This study could be used in the future to determine where contaminants have traveled, but this is the first step that you need to do to be able to do anything else.”
The Kenai Peninsula Borough and DOWL HKM are still seeking landowners in the area. DOWL HKM Environmental Specialist Emily Creely said project managers need to have landowner permission by Friday Nov. 14. Surveyors will be out collecting data from Nov. 18-21, she said. The company plans to have the study completed by the spring of 2015.
“The key is to do all that survey work within a short period of time so it’s consistent. Groundwater levels change from season to season,” Steer said.
The company has been examining well logs and previous studies conducted in the area, to supplement the model.
No one is sure exactly how many wells are in the area of land between the McGahan Industrial Park, the AIMM Monofill site, the Cook Inlet and the eastern property line of Nikiski High School, Creely said.
The borough’s $119,970 contract with DOWL HKM will eat up most of the $150,000 of state money the borough received in 2013 for the project. The funds were part of a capital budget reappropriation written by State Rep. Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski.
Project organizers encouraged Nikiski residents to contact them for the non-invasive well testing which involves no contact with the water, they said during the community council meeting.
“We can sound it from the top, just like a sonar, and then we can read the water levels there,” said Kenai Peninsula Borough Capital Projects director Kevin Lyon during a previous interview. “If we can get ahold of their well log, so we know the pump setting, what the pipe was and where the water was, that will work.”
Steer said she hoped to get as much data as possible to improve the resulting model and organizers encouraged residents at the community meeting to spread the word about the project.
At least one resident, owner of Charlie’s Pizza Steve Chamberlain, said he wanted to see more done with testing the water rather than spending money to determine how it moved. Chamberlain has been a vocal proponent of further testing in the area. The walls of his pizza shop were plastered with local newspaper articles, photos and DEC documentation of a polluted site in the area when the Clarion published a six-part series investigating a contaminated site in Nikiski in 2012.
“Some of that money should be put toward actual analytical testing of the water,” he said during the community council meeting. “After we get done with this study we still won’t know where pollution is and where it isn’t.”
Reach Rashah McChesney at Rashah.firstname.lastname@example.org