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Chester County Press

Committee conducting own testing of potential Artesian water source

01/19/2016 01:27PM ● By J. Chambless

The results of this testing will eventually be shared with the Delaware River Basin Commission.

By Richard L. Gaw
Staff Writer

On any given Sunday, Marion Waggoner and Dave Yake, two retired DuPont scientists, could be pursuing a number of activities common to men like them, like golf or tennis, or choose to sit on their back decks and reflectively admire the change of seasons.

Instead, using a device known as a Marsh McBirney Portable Water Flow Meter, Waggoner and Yake have spent a portion of their weekends since last September knee deep in the big muddy, monitoring the water capacity, flow rates and conductivity of the Broad Run Creek in Landenberg,

They're making five stops along the creek: at the bridges over the creek on Newark Road and Broad Run Road and Watson Mill Road; at the Somerset Lake Spillway; and where the Colonial Pipeline crosses the New Garden Township spray field area. At every stop, water samples are taken and placed in plastic containers, which will later be measured for levels of nitrate, sediment, oxygen and bacteria levels.

It's all part of a five-year monitoring program Waggoner and Yake have developed as members of the Save Our Water Committee, a grass-roots membership of local citizens galvanized to protect the watershed from the potential damage the projected activation of a nearby well could have on the future quantity – and quality – of water in the area.

There is some irony in their work, because at some point during their fact-finding walks through the fields and streams, Waggoner and Yake are likely to come face to face with a hydrogeologist from the Delaware-based Artesian Resources Corp., who has been required to do the very same thing.

On Dec. 9, 2015, the five-member Delaware River Basin Commission [DRBC] gave approval to Artesian's application to withdraw water from the Broad Run Aquifer, with the stipulation that before it can begin withdrawing water from the well, Artesian must submit to a rigorous, nine-month monitoring program to assure local authorities and regulatory agencies that the data they will find will prove that pumping the well will not decimate the water levels in the area, and in particular, local private wells and the nearby White Clay Creek.

Further, the DRBC ruled that Artesian will conduct its own monitoring and analysis of water levels once a week during those nine months, and share these results with the DRBC, the Chester County Water Resources Authority, the Pennsylvania Office of the Department of Environmental Protection, and New Garden Township.

Critics of the ruling that places the monitoring of the Broad Run well in the hands of Artesian believe that with no unbiased, counter-balance of record-keeping, subsequent records such as stream flows and water levels could be skewed in Artesian's favor.

Enter Waggoner, Yake, their Marsh McBirney Portable Water Flow Meter, a notebook, empty plastic containers and buckets -- trudging along from station to station. Although they are prepared to serve as a second "voice" in the monitoring and eventually be able to send their results to David Kovach, supervisor of the DRBC's project review section, Waggoner and Yake are only three months into their work, which is far too short a time to establish a consistent baseline model of results. A longer amount of time will yield more data, which will lead to more educated analysis and forecasts.

“Literally, every single time we take data, we take it back and ask, 'What does this really mean?'” Yake said. “Every single data point we get, there's a surprise, and that's the real world. It throws curves at you, so you have to go through the data, pull it apart and reassemble it and then you can hopefully get to a point where you understand it. Until we get to a point where the data is stable, we're not going to be able to transfer this information off to someone else.”

"If we understand how the watershed works, then we'll get credibility with the DRBC that we understand what's going on," Waggoner said. "It will also allow us to detect shifts in the stream, which will then allow us to explain to the DRBC what's causing these shifts. Our approach is to eventually be able to peel back all of the layers and say, 'Here is the layer that's going to be affected by the [potential activation of the] well. Let's monitor that.'"

For now, the Marsh McBirney Portable Flow Meter is an effective tool, but Waggoner and Yake eventually see their testing being kicked up a few notches through the use of an Acoustic Doppler Velocimeter -- or ADV, as it commonly called -- which they hope to purchase in the next year. The tool, which costs between $10,000 and $15,000, measures the doppler shift of an acoustic signal, and can measure stream flow in 3-D, which is especially useful for low flow streams like the Broad Run Creek. Through e-mail and phone calls, Waggoner and Yake are currently appealing to Save Our Water Committee members and donors, to contribute funding to purchase the new equipment.

On one recent weekend, Waggoner and Yake spent four hours collecting data, then several more hours compiling and analyzing the numbers. Eventually, they would like to hand off their responsibilities to a new team of trained volunteers, who would be responsible for compiling long-term stream flow, velocity and conductivity data, as well as develop additional parameters for testing.

A long-term goal, they said, will be to share this type of analysis with other environmental groups in the area, so that a comprehensive model for the White Clay Creek and other local tributaries can be established.

“The idea we're trying to promote is, 'This is our community, our environment, and it's up to local people to take care of this,'” Waggoner said. “We've seen the response [from residents and fellow committee members], so we don't think there will be any problem doing this, going forward. We have the people here, who are interested.

“This is our area. We're going to watch it forever. It's our responsibility.”

To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, e-mail rgaw@chestercounty.com.

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