By Richard L. Gaw
While concerned citizens throughout New Garden Township await the results of the Delaware-based Artesian Water Resources Authority testing of the Broad Run Road well, about a thousand of them have signed a petition created by the Save Our Water Committee, one that essentially tells Artesian to stay away from their water.
As proof of that surge in interest, about 100 residents crammed into the New Garden Township building on June 10 to hear Committee spokesman Marion Waggoner give an update of activities, timelines, statistics and additional support the committee is receiving. Formed last December and galvanized by a petition it intends to deliver to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), the Committee and its supporters oppose Artesian's presence in their neighborhood, one that began in May when it conducted a 72-hour aquifer test near the corner of Newark Road and Broad Run Road in order to determine the production capacity of the well.
To date, these results have not yet been revealed, but if the well passes the litmus test and a permanent pumping station is set up, its hourly pumping rate of between 150 and 200 gallons of water a minute would amount to as much as 288,000 gallons per day being drawn from the well. Artesian has publicly stated that the water will be distributed throughout southern Chester County.
Artesian was granted the legal right to drill on the grounds through an agreement with the Wilkinson family several years ago.
Throughout his presentation, Waggoner – who was assisted by his wife, Jane – continued to hammer home the effect that an activated well would have on the water supply in the area. Waggoner said that an active Artesian well, which he called “a consumptive load on the aquifer,” could affect the water availability of 50 percent of the homeowners in New Garden Township, and because nearly all homes in Franklin and London Britain Townships have private wells, residents in that area as well.
“This is not just a New Garden problem. This is an area problem,” he said.
Waggoner said that if Artesian receives the water withdrawal permit from the DEP, that there would be little the Committee could do to reverse the decision. With no legislative or judicial power, he acknowledged the up-hill battle that ad hoc groups such as Save Our Water Committee have against large companies such as Artesian, but has repeatedly said that the purpose of the Committee is to inform the public and create an infrastructure of support. Lately, the outgrowth of the committee has been seen in direct mailings, an e-mail list of nearly 500, a Facebook page, and a petition signed by nearly 1,000, but its support is also being heard from local and national groups as well. Waggoner said that the Committee has contactted and received initial support from the White Clay Creek Association, the Chester County Water Resources Authority, the National Park Service's "Wild and Secnic Rivers Section," the Stroud Water Research Center and New Garden Township.
In January, New Garden Township Solicitor Vince Pompo sent a letter to Artesian, informing the company that the well Artesian is looking to activate on Broad Run Road has no record of land subdivision approval, and is in violation of two township ordinance compliance issues. Pompo wrote that township R-1 zoning regulations where the well is located permit only one principal use, as stated in township ordinance 200-18.A: “'A building may be erected, altered or used and a lot or premises may be used, by right, for any one of the following purposes and no other…’” wrote Pompo, who added that a facility used for the extraction of water for commercial use would add a new, additional purpose, and thus, the pumping facility is not permitted on the property.
In addition, Pompo wrote that the extraction of water for commercial use is not permitted within the R-1 District, and that such a use would only be permitted by conditional use within a commercial-industrial district.
Sens. Andy Dinniman and Chris Ross have also written letters in opposition of of Artesian's plan.
Perhaps the Committee's largest target is not Artesian, but the DEP who, along with the Delaware River Basin Commission, will ultimately decide whether to grant Artesian the permission for commercial use of the well, if the aquifer test reveals that the well is pump-ready. Waggoner said that there will be a 30-day public comment period after Artesian's filing with the DEP -- at which time letters will be sent by the Committee to the DEP regional director and the DEP's public advocate, calling for the DEP to block Artesian's water withdrawal application.
Waggoner also asked those in attendance to share their concerns with the Committee, which will be compiled and delivered in document form to the DEP.
The committee's next meeting is scheduled for June 18 at the Franklin Township Building.