Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

City Seeks Old River Channels Drilling May Find Source of Naturally Filtered Drinking Water

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

City Seeks Old River Channels Drilling May Find Source of Naturally Filtered Drinking Water

Article excerpt

Somewhere under the Missouri and Mississippi may flow a river free of the zebra mussels, farm chemicals and muddy sediments that pollute the water above.

At least that's the theory leading the St. Louis Water Division to begin test drillings next week aimed at finding that source of cleaner water.

If that ground water is found, it will supplement, and perhaps replace, the 150 million gallons drawn daily from the Missouri and Mississippi to supply the taps of city residents.

David Visintainer, head of the Water Division, explained that rivers often change their course over time, abandoning one channel after scouring it out. The deeper bed fills in with gravel and sediments, but continues a below-ground flow with water seeping in from the relocated river above.

The water that fills the underground river is filtered as it passes through layers of sediment and soil.

The Water Division's main plant is near the Chain of Rocks bridge, at the northern edge of the city limits. The test borings cannot be done there because the plant sits close to bedrock - literally rock bottom for any river channel.

"That's how the Chain of Rocks got its name," Visintainer said.

But another potential site is three miles north of the plant, at Columbia Bottoms, 4,600 acres of farm fields and bottomland forests at the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi. The city owns that land, and that is where crews will dig next week.

The Missouri Department of Conservation would like to acquire the Columbia Bottoms to create a model urban wildlife area. The city has rejected the offer so far, but Visintainer said that plan would not conflict with locating wells there.

"The ideal thing would be to find an old river channel that has filled up with gravel or sand deposits, but still is drawing river water that percolates down through the soil," he said. "The soils pre-filter the water, and the river above recharges it."

Kansas City already receives about a third of its water from wells drawing from underground sources along the Missouri River. It has 11 wells and will add three more next year.

Frank Pogge, of the Kansas City Water Department, said the main advantage of the underground water is a constant temperature around 50 degrees.

"Our main breaks go down significantly if we can keep the water temperature above 40 degrees," he said. "Before we had the wells, we'd have a bad winter and have a hundred main breaks. …

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