SEVIER COUNTY — In February, members of St. Elizabeth Parish in Central Valley received welcome news: they would be able to use the toilets in the church building rather than the porta potty that had been placed outside.
However, because the water in their new well still had high levels of iron, it was undrinkable, so until June bottled water was still being brought in for Mass and to events such as funeral lunches.
“What an odyssey this has been,” Msgr. Colin F. Bircumshaw wrote in an email describing the yearlong process that included submitting the paperwork for operating permits for the new well and the updated water system.
The odyssey began early last year when the casing of the parish’s old well broke, allowing sand and silt into the water.
“By March the water pumped to the building was clogging the filter almost weekly,” wrote Chris Kravits of Kravits Geological Services LLC, in an email interview.
Kravits is a parishioner who donated his services for the project.
Though dirt in well water is a problem in itself, “the major issue is that there is good potential for the well to be providing water containing biological contaminants” such as bacteria, Kravits wrote, adding that biological contamination was likely because the well wasn’t properly sealed when it was drilled in 1990, the shallow opening increased the likelihood of contamination directly from the ground surface, and livestock were allowed to pasture directly next to the well. In addition, an irrigation canal runs 40 feet from the well.
Kravits oversaw the installation of the new well, associated plumbing updates, and obtaining the necessary approvals and permits. The well provides the parish’s water for the church building, social hall and the irrigation system.
Repairing the old well proved unfeasible, and the time and cost to hook the rural church into the system of the nearest town, Central Valley, was prohibitive. After consulting with diocesan officials, the parish chose to drill a new well.
For churches that provide their own water, the state requires that the water source and plumbing meet the requirements of a public water system. The requirements for the well, and in that part of Utah the aquifer is almost 300 feet deep, and upgrades to the plumbing added to the cost.
Time also was a factor: the drought has meant drillers have busy schedules, so it wasn’t until last December that the parish was able to have a new well drilled. Originally the water was high in iron, but with flushing the system and using the water it was found to be a temporary condition.
After receipt of the well operating permit, the building’s plumbing was upgraded to include items such as a backflow preventer that were required for the permit.
With everything in place, the parish is now in the approval process to obtain the operating system permit from the state. Kravits expects it will be received by the end of the year.
While the entire process went relatively smoothly, Kravits acknowledged that the upkeep of the well is something that the parish pastor and diocesan officials will need to stay on top of, particularly the regular water samples that must be submitted to the state.
It’s a constant responsibility that requires “diligence and significant responsibility by the parish and the diocese in that operating permit,” he said.