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Could water-safety issue close school?
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Should Nile Garden Elementary School be closed if the water from campus wells is not safe to drink?

If that were to happen, where would the students go, and what would become of the staff?

These were just two of the questions brought up during a discussion on the latest reports regarding the $205,000 test-well drilling project at this rural south Manteca campus that was completed in December 2013.

Don’t drink the water. Well water, that is. That’s still the word at Nile Garden, according to the latest update.

The test-well drills “came back with mixed results at best,” reported Manteca Unified Deputy Superintendent Clark Burke during the discussion on the Nile Garden water issue during Tuesday’s board meeting. Mostly arsenic was found among the contaminants, he said.

The safety issue involving the drinking water at the school was always on everybody’s mind at the school but no one dared to bring it up, commented Jeff McLarty who used to work in maintenance at Nile Garden.

No one wanted to “bring it up because they were scared they’re going to shut down the school. I don’t think that needs to happen,” McLarty said speaking from the audience.

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Bring city water to Nile Garden, or build an arsenic treatment plant?

While a campus shutdown remains one a possible option albeit a remote one, it was not discussed at length. Lengthier discussions were devoted on the following alternatives that are being considered at the moment:

• Option #1. Confer with City of Manteca officials about a possible connection with municipal water. The elementary campus, located on Nile Avenue where it is surrounded by mainly agricultural land, is roughly one-and-a-half miles outside existing city water lines today. Although it is “outside the realm of the city,” the school’s location is within the sphere of influence of the city, said Burke.

While city-water connection is a good possibility, there’s just one concern. The school would not be able to consume the water from the city “fast enough” resulting in the potable liquid becoming stagnant in the pipes. The connection water line would be a 16-inch pipeline running down the mile and a half distance. The possible solution to that? Installing the 16-inch pipeline in a loop.

• Option #2. Tapping a well that’s viable. The only question is, what happens if that well dries up?

• Option #3. Build an arsenic treatment plant. That’s something that Lathrop and Manteca, as well as other cities, have done. But this alternative involves a huge fiscal investment. That’s the bad news. The good news is that the district could tap into grants earmarked for this purpose. Money from Prop. 84, for one thing. Grant from this source could also be tapped to fund Option #1. Proposition 84 is the Safe Drinking Water, Water Quality and Supply, Flood Control, River and Coastal Protection Bond Act of 2006 which authorized $5.388 billion in general obligation bonds “to fund safe drinking water, water quality and supply, flood control, waterway and natural resource protection, water pollution and contamination control….”

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Three depths dug in test-well drills

Three depths of drilling – shallow, middle, and deep – were conducted to determine if there is any possibility of constructing a well that could deliver water that does not exceed contaminant levels and, hence, is safe for Nile Garden students and staff to drink. But, as reported by Burke, the amount of contaminants including arsenic is still not up to government-mandated safe levels so potable drinking water for staff and students at this rural south Manteca campus continues to be delivered by the truck load. Water from the school’s water wells are mainly used for landscaping irrigation.

The test well drilling project is part of the study process that was approved by the board in January 2013. The contract for the study process was awarded to NV5 (Nolte Vertical Five) to the tune of $205,000. Funding for that is coming from a $480,000 state grant that is specifically earmarked for the study whose sole purpose was to determine the most cost-effective and feasible way to deliver safe drinking water to the school. The contract to drill the test wells was to the tune of $94,000.

The question was raised during those earlier discussions among the board if the nearly half million-dollar grant could be used to connect Nile Garden to city water. It was explained at the time that the grant money was strictly mandated for conducting the feasibility study so it could not be spent for city water connection construction.