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editorial - Morning Herald - 12/27/00

December 26, 2000

Well water study should spark groundwater-protection tactics



A regional conservation group's announcement that more than 60 percent of the water wells in Berkeley County, W.Va. might be contaminated with harmful bacteria brought a flood of phone calls Friday to the county health department. It's good to see residents taking this threat seriously enough to have their wells tested, but the study should also spark some new thought on groundwater protection by county officials.

The problem came to light through a study of 50 local homeowners' wells done by the Potomac Headwaters Resources Conservation and Development Council.

The study found that in some sections of the county, there's a 60 percent chance that wells will be contaminated with one or more of four different types of bacteria, two of which - clostridium and giardia - can cause serious illness.

And what's to blame for this contamination? Failing septic systems, the study says. Malfunctioning systems leak waste into limestone rock channels below the ground, which can take fecal matter miles from the point where it entered the ground.

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The cure? In some cases, residents have been able to flush their wells with bleach, but in others, a chlorination system must be added to the well.

Well tests done by county sanitarians are $45, but there must be some method to test septic systems' efficiency. County officials might want to look into making regular tests of that sort a requirement on newly installed septic systems and available at a reasonable price for older residents on fixed incomes.

In contamination-prone areas, the county might also want to look into ways to encourage builders to equip their developments with package-treatment systems which could be tied onto municipal systems in the future.

Because septic systems are below the ground, there's a tendency not to think about them until something goes wrong. It's up to county officials to look below the surface and into the future.

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