The Ennis Town Commission is learning it can be tricky drilling wells around town.
Town officials just had a well dug on two acres near town hall and the well has water in it, just not enough to be an adequate back up well for the town.
“Everything is a risk,” said Ennis Mayor John Clark during a town commission meeting Monday night. “There’s water there, it’s just not what we want.”
After digging 220 feet and spending $127,000 on the project, ($100,000 of which was grant money from the state) the most water the well can produce is probably a little less than 100 gallons per minute, said Dan McCauley, from Great West Engineering in Helena.
And regulations would actually allow the town to only pump about 67 gpm out of the new well.
“That’s not a lot of water,” McCauley said.
The town ultimately needs three wells to provide uninterrupted flows should one well go down, Clark said. The town purchased two acres from the rodeo association last year for a rock bottom price of $20,000 plus survey fees figuring that since other wells in the vicinity produced the type of water flows Ennis needed, a new well would do the same.
According to the town’s latest engineering report, Ennis’ water needs will eventually reach 331 gpm. Right now the town has two wells – one produces 250 gpm and the other can produce 350 gpm.
The problem is if the largest well goes down, the town may not have the water to meet the citizen’s needs, McCauley said.
Also factored into this is a Montana Department of Environmental Quality regulation that requires towns to utilize only two-thirds of their well’s capacity.
The new well is on two acres the town purchased from the Ennis Rodeo Association for $20,000 plus surveying fees. Part of the deal for the land was the requirement the town install a 2-inch water main into the rodeo grounds, which is currently being done, said Kelly Elser, the town’s public works director.
On Monday night, town commissioners discussed several options for moving forward. No citizens were present at the meeting.
McCauley provided commissioners a couple of scenarios, including bringing the new well online and looking to purchase more property in the vicinity and dig more wells to create a sort of “well field” to try and get the amount of water to meet the town’s needs.
However, to bring the new well on line will cost another $220,000, he said.
“I don’t think it’s worth putting another dime into what we have here,” said commissioner Brian Vincent. “Because the next steps are going to be really expensive.”
The town could also dig deeper in hopes of finding more water, McCauley said. However, the cost of digging deeper is $155 a foot and they could run into the geothermal water layer that feeds the hot springs north of town.
The other option would be to look for new well sites, he said.
Any option moving forward should include the town addressing water loss within the current system, McCauley said.
According to the engineering report, there’s a 42 percent water loss in Ennis’ water system. The town is bringing in a leak detection contractor early this fall to give the town a better idea of what’s causing the water loss, Elser said.
If the town could cut the water loss in half, they system would gain about 63 gpm, McCauley said. This coupled with the production from the new well could be adequate for now.
However, commissioners seemed to lean toward the option of looking for a new well site. The town owns land on the bench west of town in the Antelope Meadows Subdivision and actually has a well up there already. It could be that they could find another well location in that area, Clark said.
The commission discussed what to do with the new well and Clark urged them to keep the new well and the land at the rodeo grounds.
If the town wants to look at digging another well, there could be more grant money available to help, McCauley said.
The Montana Treasure State Endowment Program has a small matching grant program for planning water projects, he said. The town could get up to $15,000 through this program, but the hitch is it would have to put forward a direct match of $15,000.
Additionally, the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation has a planning grant program as well and could give the town up to $20,000.
This money could be used to explore new well sites and help the town write another $100,000 grant application to DNRC to drill a new well, McCauley said.
“My opinion is let’s ask for all we can get, see what we can get and let’s go from there,” he said.
The commission reached a consensus on applying for the $15,000 matching grant and $20,000 DNRC grant.
The main thing is to take things slowly, Clark said.
“We’re not in an urgent need,” he said. “We have time to step back and take this a step at a time.”