Friday, January 19, 2018

Joe Caton

St. Xavier area wells may have dangerous nitrate levels

A conversation with Joe Caton
BHCN: Hi, Joe. Did I catch you at a bad time?
Joe: No, I was just outside and away from my phone.
BHCN: Are you enjoying this beautiful weather?
Joe: Absolutely, it’s hot but not too hot.
BHCN: What’s the temperature where you are?
Joe: About 88.
BHCN: You’re right, that’s not too bad. Is there much wind?
Joe: A little breezy at times, but nothing right now.
BHCN: We had a bit of a thunderstorm come through in Hardin and give us a nice bit of rain the other night. Did you get any of that?
Joe: We missed out on that. I heard Hardin had a fairly good rain, but we missed out and didn’t get a drop. 
BHCN: Well, that’s not fair. What have you been doing this week?
Joe: Just miscellaneous odds and ends, trying to keep the grass green at the lodges and my house. Did some work on one of the jet boats, but the problems turned out to be a bit above my paygrade, so I had to take it to Billings. 
BHCN: Do you pump out of the river for your irrigation water?
Joe: We use river water, but we can use well water, too.
BHCN: It would seem that your well water is just river water, too. Is that right?
Joe: Yeah, that’s pretty much correct.
BHCN: How deep are your wells?
Joe: At one lodge, it’s around 65 feet and another well is about 600 feet.
BHCN: Six hundred feet? 
Joe: It’s a full blown artesian well. It has 100 pounds of pressure at the surface. We have to reduce that so it won’t blow the pipes out of the lodges. 
BHCN: Is it hot or cold?
Joe: It’s room temperature. It comes out of the ground at about 50 to 55 degrees.
BHCN: That’s amazing, 600 feet. Was it just a guess that there was an artesian well down there?
Joe: They know there is artesian pressure at that depth. There are several other artesian wells in the area. 
BHCN: Is the water really good?
Joe: It’s ridiculously soft water.
BHCN: So, it’s hard to wash off the soap when taking a shower.
Joe: Yes, washing doesn’t take a lot of soap.
BHCN: That would be a first, having to install a water hardener.
Joe: There’s not a whole lot of anything in the water. It is very pure.
BHCN: Does it taste good, also?
Joe: Well, I use it for cooking and what not. That super soft water will actually cook a little better than hard water. With the hard water here in the valley, we’re getting all our minerals. [The] problem is we’re also getting lots of nitrates. The nitrate level in the wells along the Bighorn Valley has greatly increased, and the last measurement I had taken on the wells here in the St. Xavier area at the Energy Labs was nine times over the recommended amount for stock water.
BHCN: For stock water?
Joe: Yes, they don’t even recommend it for stock water and [it’s] absolutely not recommended for humans. The nitrates eventually leach down through the soil and end up in the surface water.
BHCN: Do the other wells in the St. Xavier area run around 40 to 60 feet deep, also?
Joe: Yes.
BHCN: That artesian well would seem to be a real blessing. 
Joe: Yes, it is. Power goes out and you still have water. It costs quite a bit of money to put one in, but once you have it, you’ve got a pretty good well.
BHCN: Is it pretty standard around your area to find artesian pressure at around 600 feet?
Joe: Well, there are zones. I doubt that you can get it anywhere, but these well drillers know the seams and zones and the different formations.
BHCN: Other than just keeping the grass green, what else have you been doing?
Joe: I notice the choke cherries are ripe. I’ve been picking those. We had a pretty good crop of wild currents, but they’re going now. I missed the farmers market. I guess there was one the other day, but I wasn’t able to get in there. What little fishing I was able to do, was pretty decent. The water is ridiculously warm, though. 
BHCN: What’s making it so warm?
Joe: High flows make for higher temperatures. Then, when they take water off the spillway instead of the bottom of the dam, it makes for higher temperatures. The river is down to about a 6,000 cubic feet per second flow rate now.
BHCN: That’s good; so the threat to people’s land has been greatly reduced.
Joe: Yes, the river is dropping and I look for it to drop quite a bit here in the next couple of weeks. 
BHCN: Have you had a chance to go up to the lake lately?
Joe: No, other than to just take a look. I did see lots of boaters up there.
BHCN: It puzzles me how many boaters use the lake when there’s so little beach shoreline to get out and actually enjoy the lake other than by continually cruising. 
Joe: At this end of the lake, there are very few places you can get out unless it’s at a dock or a small rock shelf, but as you get further up the lake into Wyoming, there are more beach-type areas.
BHCN: What have you heard about the fishing on the lake right now?
Joe: It’s pretty decent for bass and an occasional walleye, but the bass fishing is incredible on the lake.
BHCN: Joe, we have reached our limit and as always I really do enjoy talking with you. I always learn something new.
Joe: Thanks, and have great week.