Clarksville water customers notified of high nitrate levels

The Enterprise — Michael Koff

Water for the Clarksville Water District comes from two wells located on Winnie Lane, off of Indian Fields Road, in Feura Bush.

NEW SCOTLAND — Customers in the Clarksville Water District were warned recently of high nitrate levels in their drinking water and were instructed not to give not to give the water to infants under six months old or use it to make baby formula. 

The Nov. 1 notice says that a sample collected from Clarksville on Oct. 27 showed nitrate levels of 13 milligrams per liter, when the maximum contaminant level is 10 milligrams per liter.

Supervisor Douglas LaGrange said adults are able to absorb nitrates, but babies have a problem with absorption because nitrates reduce the ability of the baby’s blood to carry oxygen, which can cause Blue Baby Syndrome. There’s also a potential risk for pregnant women, too, he said. 

“Now, it takes a lot for that to happen,” LaGrange said, and exposure needs to take place over an extended period of time for any issues to surface. 

“Nitrate naturally occurs in a number of foods, particularly vegetables. It is also used as a preservative in meats such as bacon. Nitrate is also used to make lawn, garden and agricultural fertilizers and is found in sewage and wastes from farm animals,” the Nov. 1 notice stated. “It generally gets into drinking water by runoff into surface water or by leaching into groundwater after land application or improper disposal of sewage or animal waste.”

Clarksville water comes from two wells located on Winnie Lane, off of Indian Fields Road, in Feura Bush. 

LaGrange said the Clarksville wells sit at the bottom of a basin in addition to being located in an area of town with a lot of ongoing agricultural activities.

“Basically, everything is coming downhill,” LaGrange said of the runoff that makes its way toward the Clarksville wells and increases the nitrate levels. “It’s still safe, ... it’s still a good water supply, a great water supply,” he said. “But this was somewhat of a hiccup in the whole process that we’ve encountered before. I mean, this isn’t new.”

The town has been aware of the issue, and installed what LaGrange called interceptor wells. “And what they do is, when the nitrate levels are up a little bit — and we know that — then the interceptor wells are run to flush out that area of water that’s coming in,” he said. “And it’s worked really fine.” 

 The average level of nitrate of the Clarksville supply for this year, which was based on data compiled in 2020, was 2.1 milligrams per liter, according to the town’s water quality report for the district. In 2020, the Clarksville nitrate level was was 4.8 milligrams per liter; in 2019, as in 2018, it 3.2 milligrams; in 2017, the nitrate level was 2.1 milligrams; and in 2016, it was was 1.7 milligrams per liter.

In 2020, water-quality reports for two other water districts serving the town showed nitrate levels between 1.57 and 2.36 milligrams per liter in Bethlehem, and between 1.3 and 6.6 milligrams per liter from separate wells in Voorheesville. In 2021, the level was .05 milligrams per liter in the Northeast Water District. 

As of June, there were 206 Clarksville Water District customers, making it the largest of the town’s nine districts. 

LaGrange attributed the high nitrate levels to the excessive amount of rain that fell this year. “It’s probably exacerbated everything,” LaGrange said of the rain, “because it’s been kind of a giant flushing of the area, and the streams have been full almost all year.”

The wells are to be tested a minimum of once a year; “that’s regulation,” LaGrange said. But he also admitted that, having not been tested for a year, which is protocol, the issues could have been going on “for month after month.”

Going forward, LaGrange said, he’s already told Commissioner of Public Works Bill West he’d like to see the Clarksville wells tested at least every six months, if not quarterly. And in the meantime, the town will be monitoring the numbers more frequently, he said, having just performed a test on Nov. 5. 

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