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Doubts cast on viability of Sweetwater Well in Williams
Workers have struggled to place equipment in well that was dug and cased during 2014 water crisis

The city of Williams has spent millions stabilizing its water system over the past 10 years. The city recently completed new lines to bring water from the Dogtown wells and reservoir, and replaced the pump at the Rodeo Well. However, the Sweetwater Well was dug in 2014 and has yet to be placed online. The city said the well may no longer be a viable option. (Wendy Howell/Ryan Williams/WGCN)

The city of Williams has spent millions stabilizing its water system over the past 10 years. The city recently completed new lines to bring water from the Dogtown wells and reservoir, and replaced the pump at the Rodeo Well. However, the Sweetwater Well was dug in 2014 and has yet to be placed online. The city said the well may no longer be a viable option. (Wendy Howell/Ryan Williams/WGCN)

WILLIAMS, Ariz — It’s been 10 years since Williams came face-to-face with a water crisis and city managers were forced to find a better way to secure water for the town.

The city obtains water primarily from three wells — the two Dogtown wells and the Rodeo well. A fourth well, Santa Fe, produces a minor amount of water for the city. The city supplements the wells with water from Dogtown Reservoir, City Reservoir, Santa Fe Reservoir, Cataract Lake and Kaibab Lake.

In 2015, the city completed the drilling of the Sweetwater Well in response to the failure of one of the Dogtown wells that coincided with drought and low reservoir water. The city spent $4.5 million drilling the Sweetwater Well and nearly $2 million to resuscitate the Dogtown 1 well. Afterward, however, the Sweetwater Well was never completed and placed into the city’s water system.

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The city of Williams has spent millions stabilizing its water system over the past 10 years. The city recently completed new lines to bring water from the Dogtown wells and reservoir and replaced the pump at the Rodeo Well. However, the Sweetwater Well was dug in 2014 and has yet to be placed online. The city said the well may no longer be a viable option. (Wendy Howell/Ryan Williams/WGCN)

With the drilling complete and the casing in place, the city of Williams has recently attempted to bring the Sweetwater Well online with the city’s water system but is facing complications.

“We ordered the equipment for the well, but when we tried to get the equipment into the well it kept getting hung up,” said Williams Mayor Don Dent. “So we pulled the equipment back up and hired a company to video the well.

After that company took photos of the casing and other areas inside the well, which didn’t show any obstructions, the city hired another company to place a probe in the well and evaluate the curvature.

“A lot of people think you dig a well and it goes straight down, but that’s not right. There is always a curvature,” he said. “This one has literally gone in a corkscrew fashion and one of those turns is so tight, the equipment can’t get by it.”

Dent said it is not unusual for a well column to have a curvature, but the Sweetwater Well is more significant than others.

“Trying to get a pump that’s going to be able to get past that bend in the pipe is probably not going to work,” said Williams Mayor Don Dent. “All of our wells have some deviation, but we’ve never had one that deviated this bad.”

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The city of Williams has spent millions stabilizing its water system over the past 10 years. The city recently completed new lines to bring water from the Dogtown wells and reservoir, and replaced the pump at the Rodeo Well. (Wendy Howell/Ryan Williams/WGCN)

Dent said one option is to place a smaller pump inside the column, however, the depth of the well, at 3,600 feet, requires a sizable pump to lift the water to the surface.

“(If we did that) we may get to a point where the return is not worth it because to cost to run those pumps for just 50 gallons per minute could run $10,000 - $12,000 each month,” he said. “If we get to the point where it’s only pumping 25 to 50 gallons a minute, that’s a lot of expenses to get that amount of water.”

Dent said another $150,000 to $200,000 is needed to mobilize the electrical components above the surface. If the water production of the Sweetwater Well proves to be too costly for the amount of water produced, the town might need to consider other possible solutions.

“It hasn’t been forgotten, we budgeted last year for the equipment and we found the restriction,” he said. “We’ve had other wells that we couldn’t be completed because the drilling was so bad — it isn’t the first unsuccessful or dry hole we’ve had. But we hope to not have very many because they are all several million dollars to get to that point.”

Dent said the city may eventually need to abandon the Sweetwater Well, but they haven’t given up on it yet.

“We are still waiting on some of the well experts,” he said. “We have one that comes out of Colorado who does most of the wells for the city of Denver. One of the final answers may be to cut our losses and walk away because it's not a viable well.”

Although the news is dire for the Sweetwater Well, Dent said the city is now in a good place with its water system. The city has placed new pumps at the Rodeo and Dogtown wells that have increased the capacity, and the city has completed two new lines that bring water separately from the Dogtown wells and reservoir. This will eliminate the need to treat the well water at the water treatment plant.

“We are currently able to produce all of our water from wells without using anything in our lakes,” Dent said. “We are very comfortable with the production we have, but would like to have another well online as a backup if one of the other wells goes down. We don’t have that complete comfort level now because of that.”

Despite the increased capacity, the city recently had to deal with a power outage at the Dogtown wells. Because of the limited access to the wells, city staff was unable to restart the wells.

“With the snow we couldn’t get out there so we fired up the water treatment plant to get water from the lakes - which changes the look and smell of water,” Dent said. “We had people complaining. The water is pure and meets the standards but it has a different color and look to it.”

Dent said the city plans to research ways to access the Dogtown wells remotely through a satellite system.


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