By Richard L. Gaw
The story of the growing petition by hundreds of New Garden Township residents against the idea of Artesian activating a well in Landenberg for the purpose of extracting hundreds of thousands of gallons of water later this year may have its initiative now, but its story really began decades ago, in a small Illinois town one hundred miles east of St. Louis.
Marion and his wife Jane Waggoner, who now live in a home off of Buttonwood Road in Landenberg, both grew up as farmer's kids, and every year, almost like clockwork, came droughts that affected not only their fathers' livelihoods, but the crops and livestock.
“Our well went dry every summer,” Jane said. “We raised pigs and cows, and every night at dinner, my dad always worried about how he was going to feed his family.”
“I was one of six children, and my father’s chief source of income was raising hogs,” Marion said. “Every year, the wells would start going down. We'd water the pigs, and they required a lot of water. The fact that I saw that the pigs were thirsty, that was tough for a kid to take. We’re used to turning on the faucet and the water is there, but when you turn on the faucet and the water’s not there, you want to panic.”
When the Waggoner's moved to Landenberg in 1999, it was during a drought period that was in its heyday, one that began in 1994 and did not let up until 2004. Up and down Gap-Newport Pike, they saw yellow signs that read ‘Save Our Water,’ the product of a grass-roots effort initiated against Artesian, who was planning to extract water from the township. Now, years later, those signs have been resurrected against the same company who, on Dec. 5, sent a letter to property owners near the Artesian-owned Broad Run Well # 1, informing them that they will be conducting a 72-hour aquifer test, sometime during the first quarter of 2014.
In the letter, Artesian administration engineer Kathleen B. Thaeder attempted to alleviate concern, informing the letter's recipients that previous testing of the Broad Run well “over a 96-hour period at a rate of 70 gallons per minute showed no impact on monitoring wells in the area.” Further, she wrote that the projected rate of water extraction for the upcoming test would not exceed 200 gallons per minute.
Jane attended the June 18, 2013 meeting at the New Garden Township, when Artesian representatives first introduced their plan to initiate a testing of their well on Broad Run Road. Jane came back and told Marion about the plans she’d just heard.
“I thought, ‘We’ve got to stop this,’” he said.
Recently, the Waggoners mailed a petition against the well testing to over 900 residents of New Garden Township. Less than one week later, more than 120 citizens had signed the petition, and the Waggoners are counting on more signatures to come. Four local businesses have also rallied in support of the petition.
Broken down into five points, the petition reads, “At an expected rate of 200 gallons per minute, this amounts to 218,000 gallons per day, which is enough water to supply over 700 average four-member households,” it reads. “Currently, New Garden Township private wells use about 375,000 gallons per day to supply 5,000 residents...”
“We have great concern that this will cause our private wells to go dry, even without drought conditions,” the petition continues. “This plan may have a significant negative impact on a majority of the private wells in New Garden Township. If local wells were to go dry, there would be a huge negative effect on property values, and residents would be forced to look for sources of public water which would have to be piped into the area, taking a long time to implement and at possibly prohibitive expense to homeowners.”
The petition ends by stating that because there is no large residential or commercial development currently being done in New Garden Township, that Artesian's intent of performing tests on the Broad Run well will be to eventually supply water to customers in nearby Delaware.
Although the effort to stop Artesian from conducting the tests is in its infancy, there is already a groundswell of local support of the Waggoner's efforts. In addition to the growing number of signed petitions, New Garden Township sent a letter to Artesian, dated Jan. 24, stating that the proposed testing would be in violation of two township ordinances. As of right now, the Waggoner's effort does not have legal representation, but many township residents told the Waggoners would be willing to contribute funding to pay for legal fees.
Landenberg resident Thomas Quann, who initiated a similar local grass roots effort against Artesian years ago, is currently advising the Waggoners. “I've always been one to think that citizens have a right to determine what goes on around them, and with the help of their elected officials, we can have a determination as to what happens to our environment,” he said. “Hopefully, our elected officials will listen to what the people have to say, rather than to a big business or a few people who have power because of their wealth.”
“The local political mechanism is already telling us, ‘We’re not for this at all,’ and you have a citizens group forming who’s saying, ‘We’re not for this,’” Marion said. “The question is, do the local citizens prevail, or does a company who is basically going to use the water out-of-state come in and suck off our water?”
Before they create a formal organization, the Waggoners want to make sure there is a large amount of community support. Meanwhile, they are continuing to communicate with their neighbors.
“The overall response is fear, fear in losing the waters in their well,” Jane said. “That’s the prevailing issue. It’s not right that they take our water. It’s not right that there is even a well. About half of our citizens in this township depend on wells. Besides New Garden residents, there are citizens in nearby municipalities who are on the same aquifer, so there are a lot of people depending on the water.”
“Artesian is trying to promote their business the American way and serve their shareholders, but when it comes in conflict with citizens, our protections are important,” Quann said. “Once our water is gone, once the aquifer has been tapped, then what do we do then? Then it's too late. Someday, the topic of water will be more important than gas and petroleum.”
For more information about the petition against Artesian, e-mail Marion Waggoner at firstname.lastname@example.org, or write Save Our Water Committee, P.O. Box 125, Landenberg, Pa. 19350.