Warning on Cedar Key water

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Salt levels too high to consume

By Mark Scohier, Staff writer

Ceday Key is the latest on an ever-growing list of victims suffering from record-low groundwater levels.
Cedar Key Sewer and Water District Chair David Beach announced in an emergency meeting Tuesday that saltwater intrusion has impacted all three of the city's working wells.
Beach said measurements taken from the city's No. 4 well on Monday were at 730 miligrams per liter, almost three times the allowable standard of 250 mpl.
"We have an unfortunate situation right now we feel is because of the drought ..." Beach said.
The District has been monitoring the situation for about two weeks, Beach said, and each day the situation has gotten worse. The city's No. 3 well was, at one point, measured at 368 mpl, and the No. 2 well, which he said the District had hoped to use as a backup, was "worse than 3 and 4."
"The last two or three days ... there has been a drastic increase and change in quality," Beach said, adding that agencies such as the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the Suwannee River Water Management District and the Florida Rural Water Association had all been contacted and were being consulted.
Chief Robert Robinson advised that the city be put on a red alert to get the word out as soon as possible and also suggested using Facebook to get the word out.
Beach said salt in the water is not a health concern from a bacteriological standpoint, but he stressed the need not to consume city water. He said SRWMD was working on getting bottled water, and he mentioned trying to get water buffalos, small systems that handle potable water. He also asked that people do their best to conserve water.
Beach said he didn't know how long it will be until the problem is fixed. The only solution at this point, he said, was converting the city's water system to one that uses nano-filtration or reverse osmosis to remove the salt, but, he added, knowing what type of system to get depends on getting a better idea of where the salt measurements begin to level off. So far, salinity has gotten stronger each day.
"This problem will not get better," he said. " It will get worse, unless it starts raining 40 days and 40 nights and you dam up the Suwannee River."
Looking toward the future, Beach said the solution may involve constructing a new well head farther inland, away from the salt-contaminated portions of the aquifer closer to sea.
Pat and Cindy Bonish, owners of Low Key Hideaway, a motel and bar on the island, both said they were concerned about how the lack of potable water would affect their business.
"People might cancel their reservations if they see a sign that says: Don't drink the water," Pat Bonish said.
Beach said officials would do their best to provide water for such businesses.
After the meeting, Cindy Bonish said she first noticed the problem of salt in the water Thursday, saying the water tasted like something one would gargle with.
She also said it's a shame that it takes such situations to get people serious about water conservation.
Former Cedar Key Mayor and current SRWMD board member Heath Davis was also at the meeting. When asked if saltwater intrusion in Cedar Key's well field might prompt the water district to curb consumptive use permits, he said, "No, those (CUPs) are based on science."
For more information on what the CKWSD's plans are, visit its website at ckwater.org.