By Richard L. Gaw
As yellow and blue signs opposing their controversial activity dotted the Landenberg landscape like precursors to the colors of spring, Delaware-based Artesian Water Resources will conduct a 72-hour aquifer test near the corner of Newark Road and Broad Run Road this week. After the test has been completed, more than 600,000 gallons of water will have been extracted from the well, at a rate of 200 gallons per minute.
Artesian was granted the legal right to drill on the grounds – property they purchased from local developer Charles Wilkinson several years ago – from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) on Jan. 31. The purpose of the aquifer test will be to determine the production capacity of the well.
“We will then be looking at the results and determining what we should do in terms of production,” said Artesian executive vice president Joseph DiNunzio. “We want to see how much water that well can produce without any impact, as well as determine its ability to recharge. It's all part of the process of finding out its sustainable withdrawal. It's a matter of getting results and moving forward from there.”
DiNunzio would not speculate when the results of these tests will become known.
Not everyone has agreed with the decision. Opposition to the drilling has been heard as far away as the State Senate chambers in Harrisburg, as close as New Garden Township, and even closer, from Landenberg citizens whose homes border the drilling site.
In a March 5 letter to Cosmo Servidio, regional director of DEP's Southeast Regional Office, State Sen. Andy Dinniman registered his opposition to the DEP decision, writing that he was “disappointed” in DEP's approval of Artesian's request over the opposition of New Garden Township and its residents. He also asked that the DEP reverse its Jan. 31 approval of the Artesian permit.
“The supervisors and residents have raised numerous, legitimate reasons why Artesian Resources' request should have been denied, and I know they shared them with you,” Dinniman wrote. He then followed with a checklist of those concerns, which included that the proposed water withdrawal is inconsistent with New Garden Township's zoning laws; that the water withdrawal would jeopardize the drinking water supplies of local residents; and that the water Artesian planned to extract should be used to support existing homes and future development in New Garden Township and Pennsylvania.
New Garden Township also weighed in on their opposition to the testing earlier in the year. In a Jan. 24 letter to Artesian senior vice president John M. Thaeder, township solicitor Vincent M. Pompo wrote that the development of a pump station on the property violated a township zoning regulation, specifically, Ordinance 200-18.A, which places restrictions on principal uses on properties. Pompo wrote that a facility used for the extraction of water for commercial use would add a new, additional purpose, and therefore, pumping is not permitted on the property.
To date, Pompo has not received any response to his letter.
“We did not take a position that the mere test was unlawful,” Pompo said. “We said that we wanted Artesian to know that, should they go forth and get their permits from the various agencies, such as the Delaware River Basin Authority and the DEP and act upon developing the well with a pump station, that they would be in violation of township zoning ordinances.”
Pompo said that the township is playing a waiting game until the results of the aquifer study become known, and whether the results will yield enough evidence to build a permanent pump station at the site.
“At this point, we have to see how the application will play out, because there has not been an application [for a permanent pumping station] filed yet,” he said. “The reason for that is that in order to file an application, you have to file data results on the well. [At that point], I believe that the township will put all agencies on notice as to what the township ordinances require.
“The township would ask that the agency agrees with the [township's] land use provisions,” Pompo added. “If they would eventually get a permit and at some point need to come to the township and get local permits for what they're doing, our position will be that this operation doesn't comply with the township's zoning laws.”
If the Artesian aquifer study does indeed pass the litmus test and a permanent pumping station is considered at the site for transportation of water outside the township, New Garden will have another ace up its sleeve. Through Ordinance 196-3, Artesian would be required to apply for a groundwater exportation permit from the township in order to transport water outside of the township, as well as an environmental impact analysis that forecasts the environmental impact on the township and its groundwater supply. In addition, Artesian would also need to apply for a groundwater withdrawal permit from the Delaware River Basin Commission.
Were the aquifer study to yield results that point the way for a permanent pump station to be built, DiNunzio assured that Artesian would comply with all township laws.
“Any township law has to be complied with,” he said. “If any matter arises that is not in keeping with township laws, then that matter will be addressed and resolved.”
Perhaps the most aggressive opposition to the drilling has been one conducted in pure grassroots fashion. Marion and Jane Waggoner of Landenberg, whose home is one mile north of the drilling site, spearheaded a petition effort soon after local citizens received a Dec. 5, 2013 letter from Artesian engineer Kathleen B. Thaeder, stating that the company would be conducting a test at the Broad Run Well.
Along with other residents, the Waggoners formed Save Our Water Committee, and since December, they have initiated a petition that has gathered nearly 300 signatures of people who oppose the drilling. There is also a new Facebook page, and an e-mail list of 100 residents.
The committee's opposition to Artesian stems from the fear of what test drilling could do to future water resources in the township. In a Feb. 19 letter to Benjamin Greeley of the DEP, Mr. Waggoner wrote that if Artesian develops a permanent pumping station at the site, its hourly pumping rate of between 150 and 200 gallons of water a minute would increase the daily water being removed from the site to as much as 660,000 gallons per day.
"This is nearly double the current usage [of water use in the community]," Waggoner wrote. "Since Artesian Water serves only a handful of homes in Pennsylvania from their supply lines in Delaware, the bulk of the proposed water withdrawal has to be destined for use in Delaware to support intensive development there."
DiNunzio disagreed with Mr. Waggoner's speculation, reiterating his comments published in a Feb. 5 article in the Chester County Press, when he said that if a permanent well is placed into production, the well will be connected to Artesian's water system and will serve the community in the Broad Run Road vicinity of Landenberg immediately across the Delaware state line – a community that DiNunzio said Artesian has already been serving for decades.
DiNunzio said that 95 percent of the proposed Artesian well is in the Cockeysville Marble formation, while 95 percent of New Garden Township receives its water from the Wissahickon Schist formation.
"Some have a presumption for interference that we don't believe at all, because their wells are not in the same formation,” DiNunzio said. “They're in a completely different source of water than the source we're drawing from.”
Waggoner disputed DiNunzio's claim, and produced a 2001 U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) map that gives evidence that New Garden Township is located in the Cockeysville Marble as well as the Wissahickon Schist formations. "Assuming that the USGS data are correct, any well drilled into the Cockeysville aquifer is likely to penetrate the overlying Wissahickon formation also," Waggoner wrote to Greeley.
"Our primary thrust is to make sure we are supporting our board of supervisors," Mr. Waggoner said. "They're our duly elected representatives and they are saying to Artesian, 'You can't do this,' and our idea is to support the board in the township's best interests. We're trying to build our strength so that when push comes to shove, ultimately, the township may have to go to court on this, and we want the board to know that they have the community's support."
The Save Our Water Committee will be scheduling two community meetings in April at the New Garden Township Building. To learn more, contact Thomas Quann at 61-0274-8506, or Jane Waggoner at 610-274-2404.