Committee says Artesian's report is unfair
● By Richard Gaw
"Artesian's bottom line," it read. "No worries...pump the well and have no impact on local ecosystem...! In fact, probably can pump at much higher rates."
For the next 90 minutes, the meeting, held before more than 100 concerned citizens, served as a summary of a study that questioned the validity of these words. Yake shared the results of a study conducted late last year by Brickhouse Environmental on the Broad Run well, which claims that the Artesian hydrogeologic report prepared in August that supports the belief that the 288,000 gallons of water the company said can be drawn from the well per day without impact to neighboring wells or wetlands – is false.
Written by Ground Water Associates, LLC, the Artesian report concluded that a 72-hour aquifer test conducted at the Broad Run Well – at a flow rate of 200 gallons per minute – gave support that full activation of the well would have no significant impact on basin water resources, stream flow in Broad Run an existing domestic wells in New Garden Township. The test was approved by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and submitted to the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) for final approval.
Supported by overhead Google maps, diagrams, charts and illustrations, Yake's presentation was a scientific comparison of both studies – one that pointed out several discrepancies in Artesian's report. Because of heavy rains that pelted New Garden Township in the days just prior to Artesian's aquifer testing of the Broad Run well, Yake said that the results of the data were not an accurate analysis of normal water flow and water table levels at the well.
The Brickhouse Report also took into question the timing of the 72-hour aquifer testing conducted last spring by Artesian. At the high point of water levels taken of the Broad Run stream at the time, there were 5,500 gallons per minute flowing down the stream, and just prior to the test, the water flow had dropped to 4,400 gallons per minute – five times the normal water flow for that stream.
Yake said the timing of the test conflicts with the Pennsylvania DEP aquifer test guidelines, which state that aquifer tests should be scheduled to avoid heavy rain events or subsequent rapid changes in the water table elevation, and conducted during periods of recession of local stream flow conditions that are at or below seasonal averages.
"We clearly don't have that here," Yake said. "The implications of this are that the test results are likely skewed by the fact that you have rain and water that was re-charged into the system [at the time of the testing]."
Although Artesian believes the well is a confined aquifer, due to its proximity to the Cockeysville Marble rock formation, Brickhouse believes that the well is an unconfined aquifer, meaning that the well's water exists within a layer of water-saturated gravel or sand, and that its water levels are subject to more dramatic fluctuation due to weather events such as heavy rains or droughts as opposed to a confined aquifer, which has the greater ability to re-charge its water levels.
The Broad Run well is also a "limited recovery" well, Yake said.
"After [Artesian's spring 2014 aquifer] test, the well was allowed to recover," he said. "You want to know how fast the water is going to come from the surrounding formations and re-fill that aquifer. It came back up, but it didn't come back up to its original starting point. As the barometric pressure goes down, you should see the water level go down significantly, but you don't see that. You're seeing the rain events influence the change in the water level. We're not seeing the normal barometric response that you would normally see in a confined aquifer."
Yake also raised the concern of brownwater run-off from nearby streams and farmland that could make the well vulnerable to contamination. He said that the well head protection zone is probably too small and needs to be re-evaluated by the DEP, and that a wellhead protection plan needs to be in place.
"How are you going to protect the customers of the water that comes through here?" Yake said. "You need to have something in place so that there are restrictions on how to use these thoroughfares, so that we do not contaminate that well source."
The Save Our Water Committee has submitted the Brickhouse Environmental report to the DEP, in an effort to weigh evidence in the decision-making process that will determine whether or not the Artesian application for the well will be approved, approved with conditions, or denied.
Although Paul White, managing partner with Brickhouse Environmental, called the Artesian test "legitimate," he said he would like to have seen Artesian take some time to analyze whether there were impacts to the data from the rainfall that occurred at the time of the test.
"There was no discussion of whether or not the rainfall that occurred had some impacts to the results that required to modify the results," said White, who later said that in his opinion, he did not belive that the DEP will require Artesian to re-do its aquifer test.
The Committee's presentation on Jan. 14 was simply the latest arrow slung in the back-and-forth tussle of scientific and environmental data between Artesian and those opposed to the presence of the water company in New Garden Township:
* On Nov. 3, on behalf of Artesian, Brian C. Wauhop of Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney filed an application with the 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. Artesian, the application stated, expects to obtain governmental permits to operate the well by 2015.
* On Nov. 24, in a letter to PUC Chairman Robert F. Powelson, State Sen. Andy Dinniman requested that an extension for public comment be given, from an original deadline of Dec. 6 to Dec. 22. On that same day, Rosemary Chiavetta, PUC secretary, authorized the extension.
* On Dec. 1, at a town hall meeting in Avondale, John Thaeder, senior vice president of operations for Artesian, told a capacity audience that the company's data on the well shows there is not expected to be any significant detrimental impact on the stream base flow.
* On Dec. 12, Yake first delivered the results of the Brickhouse Environmental report at the New Garden Township Board of Supervisors meeting.
* Attorney Holly Samuel of the Chadds Ford-based Samuel Law Firm, P.C. and pro bono legal counsel for the Committee, announced at the meeting that the Committee filed an amended protest against the Artesian application on Jan. 14.
For the remainder of the meeting, public comment ranged from the scientific to the emotional, with residents directing many of their comments and questions to White, who gave an overview summary of the Artesian report.
The continuing fear expressed by many of those in attendance was that in time of a drought, that an activated well at the corner of Newark and Broad run roads would accelerate the drying up of the wells on their properties.
White attempted to squelch their fears.
"The distance away from the well is a critical piece of information, when you're trying to determine which wells are likely to be impacted," White said. "The closer you are to the production well, the greater the chances that there would be some change in water level. As you get further and further and further away, your chances of being impacted are lesser and lesser and lesser."
White also said that water levels of wells fluctuate on their own, and what puts a well at risk is not the activation of a nearby well, but that the well doesn't extend deep enough into the aquifer to withstand changes in water level.
"If your particular well is typical of wells in the area -- as much as 300 feet deep -- your water level is probably going to be as much as between 20 to 40 feet below the surface," White said. "There's a lot of water sitting in your well, and a lot of ability in your well to weather the ups and downs. When you get to be 800 feet from the well, the amount of draw down you can expect during under the worst of conditions is going to be three or four or five feet.
"If you are a half a mile away [from the Artesian well], I am quite confident that no matter what rate they pump the well at, any change in water level that you will see in your well will be miniscule to none, compared to the natural fluctuating that you're going to see over the course of the seasons."
As he summarized his statements, White encouraged the Save Our Water Committee to submit their comments to the PUC, as part of the process in determining whether an application will ultimately be granted to Artesian to activate the well, or not.
"These are way that hydrogeologists and stream flow people look at how much water can be drawn without causing any 'undesirable effect,' White said. "As it relates to the Save Our Water Committee, any reduction in the stream flow would be undesirable, and that should be your position."
As the public comment window on the Artesian application begins to close, many in the audience expressed their pessimism about whether Artesian will be a cooperative neighbor in the coming months. Although the company has had the cooperation of New Garden Township in posting the results of their aquifer test on the township's website, several criticized Artesian for not publishing responses to the more than one dozen questions that Thaeder was unable to answer at the Dec. 1 meeting. To date, eight weeks after the meeting, Artesian has provided answers to only three questions, which have been posted on the township's website.
Joseph DiNunzio, Artesian executive vice president, responded to an e-mail inquiry from the Chester County Press, which asked about the status of the outstanding questions. He responded by stating that the company plans to have their remaining responses provided to the township this week.
"Once provided, we would expect the township to post them on their website as they have done with those provided earlier," DiNunzio wrote.
Would the victory for the Committee be in the form of compromising with Artesian, in terms of reducing the daily draw-down gallon level that the water company is proposing? Although some Committee members agreed that it would be beneficial to sit down at a table with Artesian representatives and iron out differences, that the idea of compromise would set a poor precedent for future negotiations.
"Artesian appears to want to drive this case with the least amount of community involvement, through the DEP, the PUC and the Delaware Valley River Basin Commission, with the hope of getting around some of these ordinances we have in the township," Yake said. "For us, we want to make sure the DEP is held accountable, that they do their job in an objective manner, and draw an independent, objective opinion, and do their job."
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, e-mail email@example.com.