I live in a small town in upstate NY, a town whose water supply is dependent upon groundwater. Groundwater, as it turns out, that is intimately connected with the rivers, streams, lakes, ponds, and ephemeral wetlands that abound in the forests and hills surrounding us. A couple weeks ago Steve Winkley, a source water protection specialist from the New York Rural Water Association, met with village, town and county officials to discuss sole source aquifers and how we might protect our water supply.
Winkley listed a number of reasons communities create source water protection plans: to eliminate or reduce potential contamination threats; to ensure long-term sustainability of the system; to minimize impacts from external sources; and to plan for contingencies in event of an emergency.
A watershed protection plan would focus on the Catatonk Creek aquifer and the watershed that feeds into the system - but first the town and village need more information about the source water. Being a rural area, the "public water system" includes two village wells, the two or three cafe's in town, a recreational camp and a couple mobile home parks.
A "public water system" is defined as one that provides water to at least 25 people, and receives certain protections in the NY Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) proposed rules for drilling Marcellus and other shales. But most people in town get their water from individual drinking water wells - and according to Winkley there are at least 2600 sprinkled throughout the hills and valleys of the town. He estimates that 71 percent of the people - or more - get their water from the Catatonk Creek aquifer.
But the aquifer is not simply a single layer of water flowing beneath the ground. While some drinking wells tap into a shallow layer that runs as deep as 30 feet, others tap into the deeper layer that is 50 to 130 feet down. It is the shallow wells that are more at risk from contamination.
Right now the risk of contamination comes from close proximity to septic systems and surface spills. But Winkley is concerned about potential impacts of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing (fracking) on the aquifer. Proposed wells located within 1,000 feet of a municipal water supply would normally trigger an individual environmental impact statement (EIS). However, he noted, that doesn’t include community systems such as the local mobile home parks.
Winkley listed measures for the community to consider with respect to protecting source water: land-use regulations (zoning), wellhead protection laws, easements, and water monitoring and testing. He emphasized that when towns contemplate industrial activity, such as drilling, they need to remember that all water sources are connected. Streams flowing from the hills recharge the aquifer, and the recharge areas are important places to protect.
Meanwhile, two towns in
You can read their watershed protection plan here, but the key provisions include:
- Baseline studies- to define and map streams, lakes, springs, ponds and other sensitive source water-related areas.
- Clustered Development Well Pad Spacing – by clustering development there will be fewer roads, pipelines and other impacts on the environment as well as reduced traffic.
- Emergency Response Plan – the gas company will prepare an emergency response plan and provide training for local emergency squad
- Use of Closed Loop drilling systems instead of reserve pits
- A commitment to using “green” hydraulic fracturing procedures, processes and materials. This means that fracking chemicals used in the watershed area will be “biodegradable, non-toxic, neutral pH, residual free, non-corrosive, non-polluting, and non-hazardous in the forms and concentrations being used.” No known carcinogens will be used.