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Dwindling Water Supply May Force School Closure

Dwindling Water Supply May Force School Closure



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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- The spring that used to supply La Sal Elementary in San Juan County has dried to a trickle, leaving district officials wondering if they will have to close the school by fall.

Drinking fountains at the 20-student school 220 miles southeast of Salt Lake City, now on summer break, have been turned off since February. The school spent nearly $200 per month last spring on bottled water. Potable well water is available, but since the well wasn't constructed according to state regulations, the school can't use it.

The district hopes to have a new well by this fall, said Clayton Holt, San Juan District business administrator, but if the water's not drinkable they may have to close the school. The closest school is in Monticello, 40 miles south.

Ken Brown, director of the state's Division of Drinking Water, said wells must have a special seal around the casing of the pipe to keep out contaminants in order to be approved. Otherwise pesticides used in agriculture or leaking septic tanks could foul the water.

Piping was installed in Coyote Spring on Hardy Redd's ranch 40 years ago to supply water to the school. Since then it has also supplied about 10 to 12 houses, a post office, a grocery store and the ranch.

"We drink it and don't worry about it," said Redd.

Drought conditions during the past five years have steadily depleted the spring. So Redd redirected water from a well built by a mining company to the community and school. Redd purchased the well to supply his daughter's home several years ago and her family hasn't had any problem with the water, he said.

Now everyone who got drinking water from Coyote Spring is drinking the alternative well water -- except the school.

Jeff Bailey, district buildings and grounds director, said the well has tested safe for drinking but can only be used for washing and flushing because the school has to obey state standards for public drinking water.

"A new well would be a reliable source that we'd have control over," Bailey said.

Drilling a well according to state water quality standards would cost about $70,000.

Holt said he's confident they can find the money by sharing the cost with others who would benefit from a new well, but there's no guarantee they'll find drinkable water.

(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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