Conferees studying ways to protect W.Va. well water

November 19, 2004|by DAVE McMILLION

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - As the Eastern Panhandle grows, the changing landscape spreads over underground water supplies.

In some cases, the growth pressure can have an impact on the water, which is used for drinking, officials say.

On Thursday, more than 160 government officials and other professionals met near Shepherdstown to study ways to protect well water supplies.

Development is occurring so fast in the Eastern Panhandle that officials are starting to see problems relating to water management, said Twila Carr, environmental resource specialist for the state Department of Environmental Protection.

To handle water runoff during storms, storm water management ponds are built to contain the water, Carr said at the conference held at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife's National Conservation Training Center.


Sometimes, blasting is required to build the ponds, said Carr. And officials are learning that water held in areas where blasting occurred sometimes seeps into groundwater supplies, Carr said.

Because of the chemicals, oil and other pollutants that can drain into them, DEP officials have paid close attention to storm water management ponds that handle storm water from commercial areas such as shopping malls or industrial sites, said Dave Watkins, groundwater program manager for the DEP.

DEP officials will require that storm water management ponds serving commercial areas be lined if they believe the liners are needed to protect groundwater, Watkins said.

Watkins said DEP officials are busy regulating storm water management ponds.

"Now, all of the sudden, boom, we're getting a lot of these," Watkins said.

Officials are concentrating on protecting groundwater due to karst regions in the Eastern Panhandle. Karst regions are areas made up of porous limestone characterized by underground caves and streams.

During the conference, "Growing Communities on Karst," officials discussed other issues, such as use of septic tanks in residential areas. Because septic tanks can pose pollution threats to groundwater, officials are studying the idea of installing clusters of septic tanks in areas that do not pose threats to well water supplies, Carr said.

Through that approach, houses can be built in sensitive areas, but sewage from the houses would be diverted to the septic tank clusters, Carr said.

"We are here to show new technology," Carr said.

Other new technology introduced at the conference included a device that uses "electrical resistivity" - injecting a small electrical current into the ground - to detect karst features. The electrical properties of the test can be interpreted to show karst features in the ground, said Heather Steffe of Science Applications International Corp.

The conference continues today at the training center along Shepherd Grade Road.

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