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Drought May Mean Less Tasty Water for Belle Plaine Residents

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BELLE PLAINE, Iowa - Residents in the Benton County community of Belle Plaine have tried hard to conserve water since August. City leaders now say those conservation efforts might not be enough and the next step could literally leave a bad taste in the mouths of water customers.

Dave Fish, Belle Plaine mayor, said despite the conservation efforts and some mandatory watering restrictions the city's five shallow wells may not be recharging property. And the city may be forced to tap a deep artesian well not used since the last big drought year in 1988.

Mike Coffman, clubhouse manager at the Belle Plaine Country Club, remembers when the town last had to use that artesian well water. The golf course uses water from the same source with its own 400-foot-deep well. But that untreated water is only used to keep grass growing on greens and fairways. Coffman said side-by-side, with a glass of tap water, the artesian well water doesn't really look different. But it has a different, and noticeable taste.

"Yes, that's iron tasting and sulfur," Coffman said. "But what do you do? There's not many options and you have to make do with what you have. We're (Belle Plaine) fortunate enough we can tap into that."

Coffman said he remembered the last time the city had to draw on the artesian well and add it to the regular water supply. He said a lot of people griped. Aside from the taste, the deep well water also has an odor and can leave rust stains from the minerals. It's also more difficult to do laundry with that kind of well water even after treatment.

Mayor Fish said the city doesn't want to reopen that well but with the drought still ongoing, the water levels in the city's shallow wells may be dropping too fast. And a decision to add the less tasty water could come quickly.

"When the water department says get it ready, we're going to rely on their expertise to do whatever we have to do," Fish said.

The mayor said he's proud of how residents heeded the call to conserve water back in August. Water usage is down at least 15 percent from the levels in late summer. The city has mandatory restrictions in place now limiting watering of gardens, new sod, flowers and trees. Watering of lawns and washing of vehicles in not allowed until the drought eases. One exception, though, is commercial car washes which use less water under pressure.

But the mayor said in spite of those efforts, the city may still have to use the deep well water. Another resident, Jack Mann, who remembered the last time that happened is hopeful the memory of bad tasting water will spur even more conservation.

"People will get on the bandwagon because they're been talking about it already. We're in a big water shortage herd and we'll have to conserve," Mann said.

The mayor said the city really doesn't have gauges in the shallow wells to monitor underground water levels. He said if well pumps start drawing air instead of water, then the city will have to act.

If Belle Plaine has to start up a deep well not used in 24 years, it will take about a week and cost $15,000 to $20,000. Mayor Fish said residents need to know it's safe to drink that water and it is treated just like water from the other, regular wells. But he admits some may not like the taste.

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