Artesian's presence in New Garden discussed at town hall meeting
● By Richard Gaw
By Richard L. Gaw
When John M. Thaeder, senior vice president of operations with Artesian Water Resources, began his presentation about the future of the company's presence in New Garden Township at the Avondale Fire Company on Dec. 1, it was to share the news that the Broad Run Well test this past spring had positive results. By the end of the evening, however, the presentation became a strained dialogue between one individual who looks at water as a commodity and more than 200 people who view water as a limited natural resource.
Before an overflow audience, Thaeder – Artesian's lone speaker at the meeting – was pummeled with heated opinions, statistical data and public backlash for more than 90 minutes, in vehement opposition to his announcement that Artesian's development of the well will provide water to nearby Delaware, as well as to a sliver of the New Garden Township just north of the Delaware state line.
Moderated by New Garden Township solicitor Vince Pompo, the meeting was divided into four parts: Artesian's presentation, comments and questions from specific individuals, a Q & A session with the audience, and closing remarks by township supervisors.
Although the meeting served as the first “person-to-person” correspondence Artesian has had with New Garden residents about their future plans for the Broad Run Well, it is by no means the first time the company has been in the news of late. On Nov. 3, Artesian Water Pennsylvania, Inc. filed an application with the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) for approval to begin water service to several properties owned by the Wilkinson family in the vicinity of Buttonwood, Broad Run and Newark roads in Landenberg, including nine properties filed by local developer Charles Wilkinson. The property owners have expressed an interest in receiving water service for their properties.
Artesian, the application stated, expects to obtain governmental permits to operate the well by 2015.
In its application to the PUC, it states that Artesian currently serves 38 residences, and projects that it will connect approximately 200 additional customers to the service area over time.
A few weeks later, following public outcry and a letter from Sen. Andy Dinniman to the PUC, Rosemary Chiavetta, secretary for the PUC, authorized the extension of its deadline for public comment on Artesian's request to begin supplying water service to the Wilkinson properties – from Dec. 1 to Dec. 22. In his letter, Dinniman said that New Garden Township residents deserve “ample opportunity” to submit public comment on Artesian's application to expand its water service.
Using a power point presentation as a guide, Thaeder began his session by demonstrating the water hydraulic system and “cone of influence” of the Broad Run Well. Referring to a side-angle illustration of the well, Thaeder showed the various layers of the well, the bottom layer of which is the Cockeysville Marble, which he said provides water that is low in nitrates and high in fluoride.
Artesian has been serving New Garden since the late 1980s, chiefly providing water from Delaware to the Broad Run Ridge development. Originally drilled in 1979, the Broad Run Well had an aquifer test conducted in 1984, which determined that there would be no negative impact on area wells or streams. In April 2001, Artesian acquired the well and ran its own test during a drought period, which Thaeder said revealed no negative impact on area wells. In 2012, a sanitary survey was done on the well, which concluded that the site was acceptable to become a water supply source.
Thaeder then shared the results of the most recent aquifer test conducted this past March, one that pulled 200 gallons per minute from the well. The test, approved by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), revealed that the well, if active, would have no negative impact on three nearby wells that were used in the testing or any negative impact on flow from nearby streams, and would be sustainable during drought periods.
“The Broad Run Well has an available draw down of over eighty feet, and during the pumping test, there was minimal draw down of a little over six feet, so there is really minor draw down in pumping the well, and there is really no question that it has the ability maintain [a withdrawal] of 200 gallons per minute,” Thaeder said.
Thaeder said that Artesian is requesting an amount of 288,000 gallons of water to be drawn from the well per day, when the well is expected to be activated. This amount, he said, is less than what was recharged during the drought period of 2001 and 2002, when the aquifer was still able to support a withdrawal of more than one million gallons per day.
“Today, water runs from Delaware into Pennsylvania, and when this run wells, depending on usage, the water will run from the well on Broad Run to our Pennsylvania and Delaware customers. The well would be set to run when there is a need.”
Referring to a map, Thaeder told the audience that the well will provide service to the residents who live within the White Clay Creek Watershed. He said that the Broad Run well location would have a 25,000-30,000 gallon capacity well underground, and be built beneath a small building resembling a barn. He said that the Broad Run Well is the only location that Artesian plans to activate in New Garden.
Given Artesian's application to the PUC to begin water supply service to several properties owned by Charles Wilkinson in New Garden Township, several in the audience speculated whether the request was to service potential residential development that Wilkinson may build in the area. Thaeder responded, saying that he is unaware of any plans Wilkinson may have regarding the future of the property.
After his presentation, Thaeder listened to and responded to public comments. Don Vymazal, an aide to Dinniman, shared a statement from Dinniman, which again voiced his opposition to the activation of the Broad Run Well.
“Our overriding concern is that this is the first step in Artesian pumping water from the Broad Run Well over the state line to its tens of thousands of customers in Delaware,” the statement read. “After all, in the past Artesian has indicated an interest in doing just that. It is reasonable to question whether this is the company’s ultimate aim and if the application with the PUC seems is part of that larger strategy.”
The floor was then turned over to several members of the Save Our Water Committee, each of whom read from prepared statements that echoed the sentiment that the activation of the Broad Run Well would run the risk of lowering the levels of nearby wells. Dave Yake said that the spring aquifer test on the well was done during a period of high rainfall, which he said may have skewed the results of the test.
Barry Crozier questioned Thaeder's confidence in saying that the activation of the well would have no impact on area wells.
"Is Artesian willing to guarantee by way of a performance bond or some other assurance to the public that you would provide free water to us and provides for any cost to hook it up to the system, if you happen to be wrong?” Crozier asked, giving a radius of two miles as a barometer.
Thaeder said that a bond would not be something that Artesian would serve.
“If we impact someone, we do have to open it up for free,” he said. “I've been with the company a long time, and the situation doesn't really come up. The confidence level of what's going to happen out there is pretty high. The DEP is not in the business of letting Artesian or anybody run people's wells dry.
“What we're trying do is avoid service disruptions where a main break on the Delaware or Pennsylvania side, whether it is a Pennsylvania or a Delaware customer,” he added. “It doesn't matter to us. They're a customer. It's not a production standpoint. It's a reliability system. It's an integrated system, and it always has been.”
Marion Waggoner said that public records show that Artesian buys about three million gallons a day from the Chester Water Authority, that is then circulated to customers in Delaware.
"That contract allows you to amp up to six million gallons a day, and four million gallons during drought periods," he said.
“Since you've certified to the state of Delaware that you already have adequate water supplies to New Castle County, then why would you need to make an interconnect with your Delaware supply lines if this well were activated? Is this being planned to take our well water over to New Castle County?”
Thaeder responded to Waggoner by saying that where the Chester Water Line runs down Limestone Road, there are not enough water pipelines to adequately supply area customers.
“There are no supplies in the location for these customers that provides a back-up source that will push into the area where our customers are in New Castle County,” Thaeder said. “Again, it's not a supply issue. It's a reliability issue.”
Dean Buckwalter asked Thaeder how Artesian plans to be a responsible steward of the people's water.
“It comes with a great stewardship to make sure you're not negatively impacting the environment,” Thaeder responded. “That's why very conservative testing procedures are done as well as a lot of analysis, so that we don't hurt the Watershed. If we harm the Watershed, we can't stay in business.”
After questions from the Save Our Water Committee, the tenor of the meeting became confrontational at moments, directed at Thaeder by both residents and township officials.
Jay Moriello has lived in his house for 23 years. “Like many of you in the room, we sit on the aquifer,” he said to Thaeder. “I think that what a lot of what you had to say went right over my head, but what I do see is that we have a situation now where you want to take our water that we're using in our daily lives and pump it to Delaware, and then sell it,” he said. “Am I wrong?”
“The fact is that when we pump water and deliver it to our customers, we sell it,” Thaeder said. “It's what we do. When this pump runs, it will serve Delaware and Pennsylvania customers the same. We don't discriminate.”
“Are you going to compensate us for the water you take?” came a question from the audience.
“It's actually not your water,” Thaeder said. “It's the state's water. Again, the water is controlled by the state, and I don't know of any agreements we have that compensate anyone.”
Pompo then refuted Thaeder's statement, by saying that the state in fact does not “own” the water in the Commonwealth.
“The Commonwealth, under a regulatory system, can give one the rights to use it,” he said. “I think the natural resources are held by everyone, including the people in this room, as theirs. The local government and the state are just protecting it for the people. No one really owns it.”
John Riabov said that his was one of the wells used in the spring testing, and reported that the level of the water in his well dropped after the testing. He then talked to Artesian officials, who informed him that the water loss was due to a leak in Riabov's home.
Thaeder said that he was not aware of the drop in water levels at the Riabov well, and told Riabov that he will again look at the results of the tests done on the well. In fact, throughout the question-and-answer session, Thaeder continually admitted that he did not know the answers to several questions, particularly those pertaining to the legal side of establishing the well, but said that he would provide the answers in a report he will send in a couple of weeks to interim township manager Spence Andress, who will then provide the information on the township's website and in the township's electronic newsletter.
Jim Thompson, who has lived in Landenberg for 25 years, asked Thaeder what percentage of current Artesian customers have well service. Thaeder responded by saying "Zero."
“Literally, every person here that you see is on a well, “Thompson said. “To you, water is a product to be sold. To us, water is a natural resource, and a finite natural resource that all of us depend upon, and we don't have any other options if our wells run dry. All of the assurances that you're giving are not going to change the minds of the people who are on wells.”
Supervisor Richard Ayotte asked Thaeder what would happen in the event that a local resident's well runs dry. "Where's Artesian going to be then?" he asked.
"In the event, in the highly unlikely event, that we dried up somebody's well, we would have an obligation to tie them into the [Artesian] system for free, at our cost," he responded.
At the conclusion of the meeting, Thaeder again reiterated that Artesian is a very regulated business.
“At the end of the day, Artesian doesn't decide that we're going to pump X [amount] from this well,” he said. “Our regulators tell us what we're going to pump. This is going to be reviewed by the regulators and they will decide what we can pump or not pump. It's not some edict coming from Artesian.
“I am confident that none of our regulators are going to let us dry up a stream.”
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.