High nitrate levels in Clarksville water drop slightly

Enterprise file photo — 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 — Nitrate levels in the Clarksville Water District supply dropped about 10 percent from early November when customers were first warned of high levels and were told not to give the water to infants under six months old or use it to make baby formula. 

The Nov. 1 notice to customers said that an Oct. 27 water sample showed nitrate levels of about 13 milligrams per liter — the maximum contaminant level allowed by the Environmental Protection Agency is 10 milligrams per liter. 

The latest sample, taken in the past two weeks, according to Supervisor Douglas LaGrange, showed the nitrate level had dropped over 1 milligram per liter in about six weeks, from 12.6 (which had been the specific Oct. 27 reading) to 11.3 milligrams milligrams per liter, according to William West, the town’s Commissioner of Public Works.

High levels of nitrate are dangerous for infants under six months of age because the body converts nitrate to nitrite, which reduces the ability of an infant’s blood to carry oxygen. This illness is known as blue baby syndrome.

“Nitrate naturally occurs in a number of foods, particularly vegetables. It is also used as preservatives 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,” according to the town. “It generally gets into drinking water by runoff into surface water or by leaching into groundwater after application or after improper sewage or animal waste disposal.”

Clarksville water comes from two wells located on Winnie Lane, off of Indian Fields Road, in Feura Bush. The district 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. As of June, there were 206 Clarksville Water District customers, making it the largest of the town’s nine districts. 

The average level of nitrate of the Clarksville supply for 2021, 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 was 3.2 milligrams; in 2017, the nitrate level was 2.1 milligrams; and in 2016, it was 1.7 milligrams per liter. 

In its annual water-quality report to customers, the town says it “routinely monitor[s] for nitrate in our water supply beyond what is required by the New York State Health Department. In the event of the detection of higher nitrate readings we have a contingency plan in place to maintain a safe level of nitrate.”

Through the use of interceptor wells, the “high nitrate water is drawn away from the production wells, which enables us to deliver water well below the levels prescribed by the EPA,” according to the town.  

Explaining the interceptor wells, West said that the water flows into the well field from one direction, passes through a screen, and is pumped back into a different part of the field.

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