Haysville: Groundwater water may be contaminated

Dripping faucet, low angle view

City water unaffected; KDHE wants to hear from well owners

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include the full story published in the August 24 print edition of the Haysville Sun-Times. Most stories appear first in our print editions; to get the Sun-Times delivered to your home, call 316-540-0500.

By Travis Mounts

Representatives from Kansas Department of Health and Environment met with nearly 150 Haysville area residents on Thursday, Aug. 17, to discuss potential groundwater contamination in and near Haysville.

The meeting covered a lot of material, but the message was simple: If you use groundwater for your home, and you live in the designated area, get in touch with KDHE so that your water may be tested.

Impacted homeowners will be given bottled water to drink, and plans already are underway to provide municipal water to affected homeowners, even if they don’t live within the Haysville city limits.

The source of the pollution is the former American Cleaners, which operated at 412 W. Grand in Haysville from 1978 to 1996.

“From what we can tell, there was no illegal dumping here,” said Bob Jurgens, section chief for KDHE. He said contamination is common from old dry cleaning sites, often from small spills and leaks. Back then, Jurgens said, secondary containment systems were not in place for the chemicals used on clothes.

Shirley Ann Boyd lives just outside of Haysville, near Broadway and 84th St. S. She has lived in the area for about 40 years, and said her water has always had a funny smell. It has gotten worse over time.

“We haven’t been tested yet. If you turn on the water faucet, the smell knocks you over,” she said. Her well water turns silver jewelry a black color, she said.

While most people affected live outside of the Haysville city limits, there are at least two households within the city limits hat are on well water rather than city water and are being impacted.

One of those households is Mayor Bruce Armstrong and his wife, Susan.

“We were shocked about it,” said the mayor. He said he didn’t know the contamination had moved that far from the source. Like many people, he’s already receiving bottled water.

He said KDHE approached the city about extending water lines to help.

“Our answer is, ‘Yes, we can do that. We have the capacity to do that,’ ” he said.

Armstrong said a meeting was planned for Tuesday this week to discuss the plans and how to move forward. The meeting was to involve county officials, KDHE representatives, city officials and personnel from PEC, the city’s engineering firm.

“We’re bringing all the players together,” Armstrong said.

Public works director Tony Martinez’s days right now are consumed with answering calls and working on the expansion of the city’s water system. He said his department knew there was some kind of problem about two weeks ago, although details were still coming together.

“We were aware of the situation, but we were awaiting word from KDHE to know what was needed from us,” he said.

Martinez said about 25 homes have been identified to be hooked up to city water. The overall number of homes that will need water is unknown. Crews are still investigating how far the pollution extends.

Armstrong and Martinez both stressed that this is a groundwater problem, and that the water coming from the municipal system is safe.

Martinez told people at last week’s meeting that the city’s wells are located west of town, well away from the area of pollution.

Armstrong blamed some Wichita media for painting an inaccurate picture.

“This is not a Haysville water-system problem. This is groundwater south of town,” he said. “That’s not been (made) clear by the TV stations.”

He said some area television news stations identified interviewees as “Haysville” residents without noting that they live outside the city. In addition, he said they were not clear in reporting that groundwater is polluted, not city water.

“That bad information really alarmed people within the city,” Armstrong said.

Over time, the pollutants have travelled in the groundwater from the dry cleaner site to the area of 85th St. S. and Broadway. It is homeowners in the latter area that KDHE wants to hear from.

The first step in treating the problem is providing drinking water to people who have contamination above a certain level.

Stage two is to provide Haysville city water to homeowners whose wells have pollutants. KDHE, the city of Haysville and Haysville’s city engineering firm, PEC Inc., are working on plans to extend water lines to homeowners. Work could begin in as little as three months, but it could be six to 12 months before water is hooked up at all homes.

It could take 15 to 20 years before all the contamination is removed.

Right now, water customers outside of the Haysville city limits pay a higher rate than in-city customers. However, Armstrong said at Thursday night’s meeting that he would ask the council to provide a solution.

There will be no cost to homeowners to have the water lines connected. They would be responsible for the cost of water moving forward.

Homeowners would not be required to connect to sewer lines, and they would not pay for sewer use. Their taxes would not change because they connected to the water system.