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Town counting on well grant to restore water supply

When one of St. John's water wells dried up in September, the community was forced to run its secondary well at full capacity. Thanks to a $50,430 U.S. Department of Agriculture's Emergency Community Water Assistance Grant, the city's water suppl...

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The water tower at St. John, N.D. One of the town's wells dried up in September, but a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant may help provide a second well and some security for the town's water supply. Courtesy | St. John Facebook Page

When one of St. John's water wells dried up in September, the community was forced to run its secondary well at full capacity.

Thanks to a $50,430 U.S. Department of Agriculture's Emergency Community Water Assistance Grant, the city's water supply could be back to full force this spring with a second well.

"This one well cannot produce the quantity of water required to meet the needs of the city of St. John," said Kathleen Langan, city councilwoman who wrote the grant application.

No water restrictions have been put into place in St. John, but Mayor Norah Gable said, if the remaining well would go out, the town of about 360 people near the Canadian border in Rollette County would be in trouble.

To go without or restrict use would be difficult as the city supplies water to the 412 students and more than 75 staff at the kindergarten through 12th grade school, said Gable, adding that many St. John residents also are elderly and already use very little water.

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The defunct well was first drilled in 1969 and replaced in 1985. The water of the 1985 well is hard with high iron, manganese and sulfate content. The city constructed a water treatment plant in 1987 to help improve the water quality.

But now the well is no longer producing water. There are numerous holes in the well casing. The wet conditions the past couple of years have caused seepage, which brought sediment into the well and plugged the screen and caused the water quantity to diminish, making it unusable.

If the remaining well does go, the well driller may be able to get a pump into the old well but water production would then be restricted, Gable said.

In the meantime, the city is monitoring the water that is coming into its water treatment plant to measure use and quality.

The city would like drill the new well in the same location as the other well, located just northeast of town. This site produces better quality water. The land where the well is located was sold to the city in 1969 by Melvin and Olga Tingelstad but ownership is being challenged in court.

The city has two years to complete the USDA grant program.

"Water is an essential resource, so Rural Development is proud to financially support St. John in their time of need," Ryan Taylor, USDA Rural Development state director, said in a statement. "Responding quickly to the community's request, this investment will help secure a reliable water supply."

Gable is hopeful the grant will cover the cost of drilling the new well.

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Without the grant money, the town would have to balance replacing the well with other major projects.

Gable said some of the roads need new gravel and the city run senior center is in dire need of repair, including a new roof and deck.

"It's an old building," she said.

The city just replaced fire hydrants but water lines in the town also are old and are having more problems all the time, Gable said.

"That's costly for a small town," she said.

The city wells supply 147 homes and businesses and revenue from that water is what pays for maintenance. If the well goes out, it will exasperate the situation as the town won't have the revenue from water sales, Gable said.

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