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A water system north of New Underwood is on tract to remove high levels of radium in the water. 

NEW UNDERWOOD | After three years of work and assistance from the state, a rural water system serving about 150 residents north of New Underwood is on schedule to mitigate excessive radium levels found in its drinking water.

Testing of water provided by the Viewfield Rural Water System detected excessive levels of radionuclides in the drinking water produced by the community water system, said Mark Mayer, administrator of the state Department of Environment & Natural Resources’ Drinking Water Program.

Specifically, the federal Safe Drinking Water Act sets the maximum allowable combined radium contaminate level at 5 picocuries per liter of water. Over the past year, Viewfield’s water has averaged 7.7 picocuries per liter, Mayer said Tuesday.

“Our No. 1 objective, our mission, is public health protection,” Mayer said. “The standards established in the federal Safe Drinking Water Act are the standards by which we define the safety of water to insure that public health is protected.”

Of the 642 water systems in South Dakota, 464 are community water systems like Viewfield’s, he said.

DENR defined Viewfield’s issues with radium as a “chronic contaminate,” and issued a notice Sept. 29, 2015, to the water system that it was in violation of federal guidelines.

Radium is a naturally occurring radioactive element that is present in most soils in varying amounts. People consuming water with combined radium levels exceeding those guidelines, “have a greater risk of cancer over a lifetime of exposure,” Mayer said.

Since the violation notice, DENR has assisted Viewfield in correcting its issues and developing a plan to mitigate radium levels and bring the system into compliance with federal laws, Mayer noted. Engineering reports helped the system determine a preferred treatment system which allowed Viewfield to apply to the state for funding, he said.

In June 2016, the DENR’s Board of Water & Natural Resources approved a $250,000 funding package for Viewfield which included a $200,000 consolidated water facilities construction program grant, and a $50,000 consolidated loan.

Since that funding package was approved, Viewfield has purchased the filtration system necessary to remedy its issues and expects to complete phase two of its project — construction of evaporation ponds at two well sites to hold water discharged from the system — by next summer, said Larry Gossard, president of Viewfield’s volunteer board of directors.

Gossard, who helped organize the community water system and has served as board president since 2006, said he never was concerned about health issues posed by high radium levels and would be happy to put the issue behind him.

“We had to go through all the hoops,” Gossard said. “It takes time and paperwork and engineering reports. It takes time, and it costs money.”

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