Water Issues

What You know that isn't so. (Or, don't confuse me with the facts, I already have my mind made up.)

Prepared for the Leadership Ashland series by Jeff Hardman, panelist.

This is not one, but three different issues. And, they may not have the same solution.

Issue 1: The perceived water "problem" in the Northern townships, namely, Sullivan and Jackson. First we must separate the reality from the perception.

Perception 1: There isn’t enough groundwater in these townships to support wells in the area.

The truth: all though individual well yield varies, there has never been a real lack of water. Well drilling is not an exact science, and the results of any particular well drilling experience can not be used to catagorize the whole region, and therefore all the wells in a given area. For the most part, our experience has shown that there IS enough water on any one piece of property, to support a house, and in many cases, enough water in a household well to run a dairy farm. (20+ gallons per minute).

Perception 2: There may be enough water, but the water is of such poor quality that is unusable.

The truth: Natural minerals occur in almost all water, and removing them requires a little more than just running down to the do-it-yourself superstore, and buying a piece of water treatment equipment that is wrong for the application, and not going to the job. These natural minerals are not harmful to the human body, and, as a matter of fact, your body is made up of these natural minerals. Calcium, magnesium, iron, etc. are a part of our environment, and recoiling in horror when they are found naturally occurring in well water, defies logic. This also applies to the common complaint that "we don’t drink the water because it smells, and therefore is no good". This is caused by naturally occurring hydrogen sulfide (sulphur) and is easily removed. Again, many, many, many times we have treated water successfully, that had been deemed by the neighborhood know-it-all as unusable. We know that people have a tough time finding a water systems professional that can "fix" their water, and as a result, give up, lamenting to all their friends and neighbors that no one exists who can help them. Or, worse, that water treatment could never be successful. This leads to the perception that they should install a hauled water storage tank, (cistern), buy a tank for the back of their pickup, and forever live in fear of running out of water. They have been told that drilling their own, private, untaxed, unmetered, water well isn’t a possibility for them, and that it wouldn’t do any good for them to even try.

> As a matter of information, there is a notion that underlies many of these misconceptions, and that notion is, if I drill a well, the water should be "free", flowing out of the ground, with no treatment necessary And if treatment is necessary, there must be something wrong with my water. The reality is you always have to pay for your water. Let me explain: if you live in the city you get a monthly bill. That bill pays for the acquisition of water, the filtering or treatment of water, and the delivery of water. Whether the water is from a surface water source, (lake, reservoir, river, spring), or an underground water source, (well), treatment is necessary. With surface water, the acquisition is fairly easy. Put a pipe in to the lake. Delivery is by pipeline, and has it’s own set of initial and on going maintenance costs. (Broken water mains, ect.) Surface water contains man made toxins, such as farm run off, all manner of bacteria such as cryptosporidium, giardia, coliform, and a small amount of naturally occurring minerals. This is the treatment cost.

Well water, while largely free from the surface contaminant, have an abundance of natural minerals, that, while not harmful to human health, are undesirable because of the deposits left on your sink, etc, and therefore can, and sometimes, should, be removed. With a well, you pay for acquisition when the well is drilled, and if any part of the pumping system needs replaced. The treatment cost is the purchase of your treatment equipment (which is basically a one time fee, because good treatment equipment will last 20-30 years) and a few dollars of salt each month. The only delivery cost may be the couple of dollars of electricity a month that it takes to pump the water.

Let me say it again: you have to pay for your water. As it stands right now, we are getting incredibly cheap, undervalued water from Lake Erie in some parts of the county. That could end at any time as infrastructure ages and needs replaced (pipes or treatment plants) or soon as local, state, federal, or foreign governments put a tax, or excise fee on the removal of water from that source. You could easily see water bills double, or even triple.

Issue 2: Orange Township, and the village of Nankin.

Perception: Nankin is running out of water, because the city is pumping it all out with their wells.

>To answer this, let’s first get rid of a few misconceptions. First, because surface water and ground water are separated by underground clay layers in this region, a pond that no longer holds water is not necessarily an indication of reduced ground water levels, and is far from "proof" that the overall water levels are being reduced. It does mean that the pond is "leaking", and it does follow that the water is going somewhere. We find a clay layer running anywhere from the surface to 18 feet in some cases, and again from 50 to 100 feet in other places. Sometimes both.

>There is also an underlying mis-conception that we JUST HAVE to be running out of ground water. This is typically based on the human trait that we don’t believe in something we can’t see. Underground water can’t be seen, therefore we’re suspicious of it’s occurrence, movement, availability or quantity. There is a statistic that if all the fresh water on the surface of the entire globe, including all the lakes, (Erie), all the rivers, (Mississippi, Amazon, Nile), and all the fresh water seas were put together, it would amount to between 3% to 5% of all the fresh water occurring on the earth. Anyone want to take a guess at where the other 95% is? You guessed correctly. It’s underground. Stored in sands, gravels, bedrock of various types. There is no such thing as this mental picture that some people have of an underground "lake", and all we have to do is drill a hole down to "tap" into this water source.
There is also no such thing as a universal "water table". We have drilled wells up on the side of very large hills that have a water level in them of 40 feet from the surface (perched aquifer), went straight down the hill to the valley, and drilled a well with a water level of 100 feet from the surface. To reference a water level, (or more correctly, "static water level"), as proof of anything requires ignoring the basic traits of groundwater occurrence.

>The geology in Orange township varies widely, and if we take Nankin in particular, there are two different formations in which water occurs. The first is the gravel that occurs anywhere from 25 to 80 feet from the surface. This formation has a good quantity of water, and moderate hardness. The second is the shale/sandstone bedrock that lays anywhere from 40 feet from the surface on the extreme East end of town, to 100 feet from the surface on the West side. Wells drilled into this formation tend to deliver softer water, but have a slower flow rate. The slower flow rate is because the bedrock has low porosity, and the water movement in the formation is very slow, usually measured in feet per year. Many wells in Nankin use this formation for their water including the School and the Firehouse, where many people take their gallon water jugs to fill. This formation has always been a slow producer, and this is just the characteristic of the aquifer. It is slow because of the GEOLOGY, not because of any municipality drawing water from the adjacent valley. This formation was this slow 1000 years ago.

>And while we’re at it, I’ll bust a few more misconceptions. I touched on the fact that the bedrock formation has a ground water movement of feet per year. But, wait a minute, if it rains today, that water should be in my well tomorrow, right? You’d better hope not. If ground water recharge was that fast, you would have the same problem as the surface water people; farm chemicals, all kinds of bacteria, all sorts of different nasty things in the water. The truth is, when it rains, the water percolates down through the ground at an amazingly slow rate, sometimes taking months or YEARS to eventually flow into your well. This process is Mother Nature’s way of cleaning the water of surface contaminants. The only downside is, since water is also nature’s universal solvent, it dissolves the naturally occurring minerals in the ground as it goes. Thus, the hardness and iron in the water. Again, these are perceived as something unnatural and horrible, and we all have to run to the store to buy bottled water, because there are MINERALS in my well water. Gee, this is curious. I picked up a trendy labeled bottle of water in a store recently and it proudly announced "NATURAL MINERALS ADDED!" Madison avenue wins again. Perception 1, common sense, 0.

Answer to issue 2: It has been our experience that in most cases along the old Nankin road (Co Rd 1175), (which has been touted as "proof" that the city is drawing the wells down) numerous wells were drilled in the past, that were just barely deep enough to reach the first water bearing gravel at 12-25 feet. Many of these wells were installed. Many of them were marginal long before the City of Ashland ever drilled any wells in the area. We have drilled wells in this area, for people in the past 20 years, deeper into this gravel, to depths of 35-70 feet and have been rewarded with amazing flow rates sometimes exceeding 40 gallons per minute. (The average house only uses about 4-8 gallons per minutes at any given time) Were those old wells too shallow in the first place? Or are they indicators of dry season/wet season rainfall? (Very shallow wells do mirror the rain fall pattern, but lag it 2-6 months) Low water levels in deeper drilled wells occur November through March. (Another misconception busted. You were always told wells went dry in the summer. The old shallow dug wells frequently did). The larger question is this: Is the City of Ashland gradually and very slowly drawing the static water level down in this 385 foot deep buried river valley? We know that this river valley begins North of New London, passes Southeast down through the whole county of Ashland, continues through Holmes and Coshocton counties, and eventually winds up intersecting the Ohio River valley West of Marietta. Where is the recharge for this valley coming from? Is it traveling South from New London? Is it traveling North from Coshocton? Are we "stealing" "their" water? Remember, surface features have almost nothing to do with ground water movement. The "dividing ridge" is only a dividing ridge on the surface, this valley is 250 to 385 feet deep. All the water could be moving North from the Ohio river. Or, all the water could be moving South from New London. Or, the one that I think is most likely, the valley is a "sump" that gets it’s recharge at any given point along it’s length from THE SIDES. In our case that would be along the valley to the Northeast and South west. It follows that if you increase pumpage in the valley to an amount greater than what the recharge rate is, you will slowly begin to draw it down. However, this does not mean that we should rush knee jerk into a pipeline scenario that will only cost the taxpayers money. What would be the answer if we thought the City was drawing more than was being recharged? Could we keep our household wells if the pumping rate was reduced in the city wells, therefore "raising" the water level in the household wells? That answer is yes.

The truth: what you’ve all been waiting for. Is the City of Ashland severely drawing down the aquifer in this buried river valley? That answer is no. Is the City of Ashland affecting wells in the area by pumping water out? That answer is............YES.........., not to the degree that most people have been led to believe, but it very definitely is having some effect on the overall groundwater model of the area. On a scale of one to ten, it isn’t a 10, it’s about a 3. The good news is, at least Ashland isn’t drawing the water out and pumping it over the ridge to be lost forever, it is discharging back into the Jerome Fork which is the current surface water stream running down the valley. How much recharge is coming from this river going back into the ground? Hard to tell. At least it has the chance to recycle.

>More information. There is another misconception that needs to be addressed. It is: "we can’t just keep building houses out in the country without running rural water lines, because we are going to run out of well water". Oh, how untrue. Let’s look at the model: We drill a well in front of the house drawing water from a good, safe depth, bring it into the house for use, (notice I didn’t say "consumption" because water is neither created nor destroyed, there is just as much water on the planet as there was 5000 years ago), then we put it back on our on land through an efficient sewage system that is buried in your back yard, recharging the water close to it’s source. This water gets refiltered by Mother Earth along with the rain water that falls along side it, and it all gets recycled. We can put in one hundred houses along with one hundred wells, along with one hundred septic systems, and achieve the tightest, most environmentally friendly method of using our natural resources that has ever been devised. Best of all, (drum roll) water is a renewable resource. Contrast this with a pipeline setup. A typical rural water authority drills a series of wells, in a specific spot, pipes the water to houses miles and miles away, then scratches it’s collective head when they start having trouble with the well fields. They ask themselves "why are the wells beginning to draw down?" They spend tens of thousands of dollars hiring a high powered consulting firm to come in and give them complex answers to a situation that usually can be answered by a very simple question: where is the water that you are pumping out being recharged,...........or is it? If you take something out, you have to give it back. Law of nature.

Issue 3: If Ashland city is going to grow (as is written in the twenty year plan) where are we going to get the water?

>Ashland could look for another well field, or increase the size of the one it has. The drawbacks to this are the need to own the property that the new wells are on, or in the EPA’s eyes to control the property in at least a 600 foot radius of every well. If you install 10 new wells, that ends up being a lot of real estate. That means no farming, or any activity where there is even a chance of any kind of chemical spill. The advantage might be, we could put walkways in along the wells, plant a few trees, and we could answer two questions at once, namely, where could we put part of a park district?

>We could rebuild the old reservoir and use ground water out of the wells along with surface water.

We could, but I’ve been told the EPA wants us to have 30 days worth of water stored in a reservoir, or it doesn’t want us to have one at all. I’ve also been told that our old reservoir is too small to hold that much water, plus it really doesn’t drain that many acres to give the amount of recharge that the EPA wants us to have for a large reservoir.

>Ultimately, we need to support the growth around the city of Ashland for a host of reasons. Notice I didn’t say support the growth outside of the city into the country. Why not? We only have to look to the Northeast to see an example of what we can avoid if we stand fast on controlling urban sprawl. Farmland preservation. This means leave the city, city and the country, country. When I sat in on the committee meetings at the time we were developing the 20 year plan for Ashland County, known as the "Ashland County Comprehensive plan 2000", one issue kept coming up in the quality of life sub committee. That issue was "how do we keep the Farmers farming, and the developers from selling off every inch of frontage on every road thus turning Ashland County in Medina County Act II? "Easy", I said "Don’t run rural water and sewer up and down every road, and the developers will find some easier county to rape and pillage, hopefully leaving us alone." "Don’t make it easy for them, they want property where they can come in, buy a farm, lot it off, collect the money, and head back to Cleveland, leaving us the tax burden of supporting more roads, more schools, and the ensuing gridlock. They don’t care about us, so don’t make it easy for them. If you want to live in a rural setting, let’s keep it that way".

And so, it was written into the Comprehensive plan and agreed to by many fine people (chapter 7, page 7-1) and I quote, "Policy on water and sewer districts: Ashland County will discourage the creation of new water/sewer districts in areas not identified as urban development areas on the land use plan. It is thought that the creation of new water and sewer districts in rural areas will encourage sprawl and premature development. New water/sewer districts in designated urban development areas would not be considered to be contrary to this policy and would actually support the goal of directing new development to designated urban growth areas. Involved entities: Ashland County Commissioners and Township trustees." (End quote)(Italics mine).

Now after all of this you are asking yourself, then just what should we do as a community?

I will give you my thoughts on where we should go next: I have told the city fathers for quite some time to "buy a farm with a large natural valley and erect a dam, thus making a large reservoir for the city to use for this growth and development". It solves three issues: 1. Reduces or greatly eliminates the need for pumpage out of the wells along the Orange Creek, thus putting the residents at ease about the city removing water, and giving them more confidence in the future use of their household wells. 2. Supports the growing needs of the city in the future, and removes the anxiety so many people have, about us collectively having enough water in general, and 3. Might even provide some recreation by having bike trails (my favorite), boating, fishing, birdwatching, and long leisurely walks around the reservoir. The city and the county could do this in partnership. Make it the start of our park district. I can think of no better goal for our community at the present.

Jeff Hardman January, 2002

P. S. Since this was written, I have been contacted by an individual on old Nankin road (Co Rd 1175) that has a cistern for water. They had been sold the same bill of goods as most of the locals: no sense drilling a well, there isn’t any water here, the city is taking it all, etc. I volunteered to go look at this individual’s "dry well" for free to see if I could determine the cause. I arrived and was shown the "well". What I found was this: the "well" was three clay tiles 4 foot long by 10" around, that had obviously been installed at some time in the past with post hole diggers. Total depth of this "well": 12 feet. Sadly, these people haul water in a the back of a pickup truck to fill their cistern, when I just drilled a well for their neighbor that yields enough water to run a farm. But, they had been led to believe that having their own well wasn’t possible, so they never asked.

7/22/05:

Had this customer mentioned above, call me about a leak in the pipe going to his "well". I said "You're using it again?" Turns out that even this very shallow entry into the Earth's surface has had the water rise up into it, just from the ground water recharge that we have had with good rain for the last two to three years. I fixed the pipe, turned on the pump, and couldn't lower the water level. It ran and ran. This was one of these examples that some of the locals have used to "prove" their point that Ashland City took all their water, and it is never coming back. Uh-oh, myth busted. Even the very shallowest of wells give reliable water with moderate rainfall. After all, there is a reason Nevada is a desert.

I said in 2002 that the city needs to buy a farm with a large natural valley to dam to put a reservoir on. They half followed my advice. They purchased a very flat piece of ground with questionable water holding characteristics. The whole thing is gravel over sandstone/shale.

The City of Ashland has spent 4.5 million dollars to buy a farm for a reservoir, (outside of the city limits) but it is in an area that is heavily graveled. It might hold water. Problem is, when they mine the gravel out they will be interfacing the shallow bed rock surface that many of the rural citizens have their wells in. This ABSOLUTELY WILL RUIN some local private wells right around the reservoir. Especially up hill toward the West from the planned site. Of course, the solution, when they ruin the wells, will be the same one the city always uses (they ruined a bunch of wells on St Rt 511 North by putting a sewer project down 35! feet just so a local developer could put in an industrial park) they will say "Oh we'll just run a city water main out to you". Wrong answer. These people don't need another monthly bill. Their wells work just fine. Now.

Standing on the sidelines, salivating, is the Rural Lorain County Water Authority, who is the water pipline (read anti well) company from the county to the North. If they had their way, they would put all well drillers and water haulers out of business by pipelining the whole county. They have been trying to buy water from Ashland for years, and Ashland has wisely kept it close to their chest in case of drought conditions. RLCWA owns no water of their own, only pipelines.

10-18-05 Forget what I said about the city being wise. They voted tonight to sell water to Rural Lorain County Water Authority , thus trashing the vision of the "Comprehensive Land Use Plan 2000". That plan was written to provide the incoming people with a choice: live in the city (Ashland) and have city services, or live in the country (the reason most of them are coming here) and have a well and septic. One lady who has just moved here from a town to the North, was appalled when I told her she would have city water within a year running in front of her house. She said "that is the type of thing we are moving FROM". This decision to sell water by the city council throws the door wide open to the developers to sell every inch of frontage off where there are pipelines. If you live in Northern Ashland County, and have a field or vacant lot beside you, better BUY IT NOW. It will look like Medina County Act II, suburbia, within five years. More city people will be moving here complaining about the farmer's cows, hogs, farming activity in general, speading manure in particular, ect.

With more people comes more crime. More daylight break-ins. Not to mention that the wonderful volunteers who man our fire departments are already stretched thin. More people means more calls. Calls that some of them leave work to go on. I can't say enough good about the fire fighters. They are truly heros in my book.

Websites:
http://www.hardmandrilling.com/ |  http://www.ohiowaterwell.org/ |  http://www.wellowner.org/ |  http://www.agwt.org/index.htm |
http://www.ngwa.org/
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