By Kent Gray

Triplicate staff writer

The Smith River Community Service District is now requiring that new homes tap into the district for their water.

The basis for the decision is a 1988 study, which found excessive levels of nitrate in groundwater.

The move is primarily precautionary, rather than one based on new findings of a possible health hazard, water district officials say.

Board members Duane Sparky Countess, Keith Sellers and Ernie Silva outvoted Jim Floyd in passing the ordinance on July 23. Board member Tim Reichlin was absent.

Since the district has a safe drinking water source, the district decided that any new construction has to hook up to the district, said the boards attorney Dohn Henion. Their initial consideration was how far should they go, but they didnt want to cause an unnecessary expense for people (currently using wells) who couldnt afford it.

Countess said the district began responding to news of possible groundwater contamination years ago.

If youve been following this, theres several things weve done in the past leading up to this, Countess said. Were not out to gouge or inconvenience anybody. This is only for new development, most of which would require a hookup anyway. And now we have it in writing.

The study, which was completed by the Department of Water Resources in February 1988, concluded that pesticides used in lily bulb production, aldicarb and 1.2 dichloropropane, had created high levels of nitrate in groundwater.

According to the report, high levels of nitrates within drinking water can be reduced in the gastrointestinal tract to nitrite, which then reaches the bloodstream and impairs oxygen transport. This can result in fatal poisoning of infants less than three months of age.

The use of both chemicals was discontinued in the late 1980s, according to the 1988 report.

Jerry Boles of Water Resources said that although nitrates can last forever in the soil, there is a possibility the water table in the area can improve.

Nitrates will stay around as nitrates forever, unless it is converted to another form, say by being absorbed through plant roots or some other biological conversion. But groundwater moves and there could be some dilution, Boles said, adding that a new survey would be a good idea.

Countess and Henion said to the best of their knowledge, no new studies have been conducted by the department since that time.

Six years ago, they were here as a result of a complaint, said Countess. They tested a well and it came up negative. The well was close to the district, but thats the only new study. We have requested the life expectancy of the chemicals from them but we havent heard back from them yet.

Countess said the nitrate issue was well publicized when the study was published in the 1980s. Countess said home buyers moving into a new area normally check their water supply beforehand.

If youre a prudent buyer, and you are moving into a home with a well or spring water, you usually have your water tested then, for coloform or whatever, he said. Thats when you have to decide if you need to put a filter on it or to get a hookup (to the district).