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Residents facing wells gone dry

December 19, 1998|By ANDREA ROWLAND

Some Tri-State area residents are calling on area well drillers to deepen and replace private wells that are going dry because of drought-like conditions during the past six months.

Washington County Department of Environmental Health staff have witnessed an increase in the number of emergency well permits - the most common dry well permits - from the last three months of 1997 to the same period in 1998, said Rod A. MacRae, director of environmental health for the county.

MacRae said his staff received nine requests for such permits at the end of this year, as compared to three requests in 1997. While he said the reasons for the requests were not documented, "the drought is quite possibly the inference one would draw."

The Maryland Department of the Environment issued a statewide drought warning this week.

"We're getting calls left and right," said Jeanine Vervaet, office manager at S.E.C. Well Drilling and Pumping Co. in Greencastle, Pa. "The emergency calls take priority, and we're backlogged right now," she added.

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Similarly, Shannon Garver, office manager at Keyser-Garver Well Drilling Inc. in Frederick, said business has increased by 25 percent with the decrease in rainfall.

Office Manager Chris Hurley of John V. Shaff Well Drilling of Boonsboro said business has increased by nearly 50 percent because of drought conditions.

George Easterday, co-owner of L. Franklin Easterday Well Drilling of Mount Airy, said that while his staff gives priority to well owners without water, business has boomed to the point that some dry-well owners have had to wait four to six weeks for service.

"We have been swarmed since September," said Easterday. "We hate to capitalize on somebody's misfortune," he added, "but what do you do?"

The planned release of water from the Jennings Randolph Lake dam near Keyser, W.Va., has so far saved city water consumers from similar shortages.

Operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the reservoir 40 miles upstream from Cumberland is used to store spring snow melt, and release water when dry conditions exist, said Russell Newman, reservoir manager.

"The river has twice as much water as it would if the reservoir wasn't here," said Newman.

With the Potomac River used as the main source of water for Hagerstown, city water officials have been keeping close tabs on those water levels, and have noted a shortage of several tenths of a foot, said Gene Walzl, manager of the Hagerstown Water Department.

While more than 33 inches of rainfall from January to July marked 1998 as one of the wettest years in a decade, the arid past six months "have probably set some sort of record for the end of the year," said Hagerstown weather observer Greg Keefer.

"It's one of the driest and warmest spells I've ever seen," said Keefer. "It's as bad as I've seen it in a long time."

Rainfall from July to December of this year totaled only 9.06 inches, compared to 25.11 inches and 40.67 inches during the same periods in 1997 and 1996, respectively, according to precipitation data from the National Climatic Data Center.

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