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Friday, October 24, 2014

County signs on for groundbreaking local water study


County signs on for groundbreaking local water study

Water, water everywhere . . . but where does it come from, and what are its components?
Those timeless questions are about to be answered across much of Potter County through an ambitious partnership between the Potter County Board of Commissioners and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).

Details were shared during the August meeting of the Triple Divide Watershed Coalition, attended by many of Potter County’s public water system operators, county and local government officials and others with an interest in water resources.

USGS hydrologist Jeffrey Chaplin said the “baseline groundwater quality monitoring project” will provide valuable data for public policymakers.
The study is not in direct response to shale gas drilling in the region, but increased gas development is one factor in the heightened interest in water migration.

About 75 well owners will benefit by receiving a detailed analysis of their water – which would cost upwards of $4,000 if they contracted for it – at no charge. Most importantly, USGS and others will learn more about the characteristics of groundwater on a broader scale.

“This will be an extremely valuable tool for protecting our water when sites are chosen for certain types of development,” said coalition chairman John McLaughlin.

Chaplin emphasized that the data would be assembled and analyzed in a cumulative fashion, with the identity of individual well owners protected. “We are scientists, not regulators,” Chaplin said. “We provide the data and the information that helps people make informed decisions.”

According to the USGS project summary, purpose of the study is “to characterize the quality of groundwater from freshwater aquifers used by private domestic supply wells. Water can contain a variety of suspended and dissolved substances such as minerals, gases, and even bacteria. These substances are often naturally occurring but can also be influenced by activities occurring on the land surface. A comprehensive list of water quality parameters will be analyzed for each well as part of the study.”

Potter County Planning Commission has applied for $250,000 state grant to help cover the costs of the study. USGS will provide an additional $100,000 and oversee the field work and water sampling. Other partners may be recruited, including Charles Cole Memorial Hospital.
The Pa. Dept. of Environmental Protection will also be involved. DEP geologist Mark Stephens said the study would complement decades of ongoing research and add invaluable information to the scientific community’s understanding of local water resources.

USGS recently launched a similar study in Lycoming County. Among partners are Geisinger Health Systems and Susquehanna Health. The agency is also working with officials in Wayne County to launch a similar study there. ▪

From the October – December 2014 issue of Shale Gas Roundup available at www.pottercountypa.net

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