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Tougher water standards proposed for builders in county

January 31, 2006|by ROBERT SNYDER

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Homebuilders in Berkeley County could face a tough new standard if a proposal to tie development to an area's water availability gets the nod from the county's planning commission.

The proposal, one of several changes set to be considered since the planning commission wrapped up workshops on its Subdivision Regulations last year, will require that water amounts pulled from wells in a new housing development won't top 75 percent of the water being recouped as groundwater during drought years.

The change would only affect subdivisions that combine private, on-lot wells with public sewer, said planning commission member Bonnie Stubblefield, who introduced the restriction.

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Stubblefield said subdivisions such as these are ones most at risk for preventing underground aquifers from replenishing themselves, because water pulled out of the ground is borne away rather than allowed to filter back through the ground.

"It leaves the area and never recharges the groundwater system again," said Stubblefield, adding aquifers could be compromised permanently if too much water is withdrawn from them.

"If you pump the aquifer dry, especially under drought conditions, it may never recharge to its full capacity," she said.

She said the proposed rule would give developers a good idea what would be pumped out of the ground in a subdivision and how much would need to remain or return in order for the development to be able to meet its own water requirements.

"The idea is to look at the (normal rainfall) recharge rate and to look at the recharge rate under drought conditions and try to come up with what percentage do we need to leave in the groundwater system," Stubblefield said.

Including actual water volume in the rule gives it more teeth than if the county simply required a survey from the developer to determine groundwater availability, said Planning Director Stefanie Allemong.

"What it gives is a measurable standard in order to determine an appropriate lot size for lots with well and septic," said Allemong, adding without a measurable standard the rule would not be able to be enforced.

The proposed rule change follows on the heels of a complaint filed by a citizens group last year in Berkeley County Circuit Court after the planning commission voted in October to approve a subdivision, despite group members' concerns that the presence of almost 100 homes could affect the area's water supply.

That project, called the Ridges of Tuscarora, is on hold pending a decision by the court.

Among other changes the planning commission will consider is a proposal to add to the subdivision ordinance the number of planning commissioners serving on the panel, and another that will remove signage requirements for developers.

Both changes are based on revisions to West Virginia land-use legislation adopted in 2004.

The county commission is slated to vote to adopt the county's subdivision regulations Thursday. The new additions must be voted on by the planning commission before being submitted to the county commission, Allemong said.

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