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Study says county's geology is split

November 25, 2006|by MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.VA. - Berkeley County leaders have gained another tool in their ongoing effort to implement zoning or land-use regulations, even as developers continue to seek approvals for projects that will override any new planning rules.

A report by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) based on the agency's study of groundwater flow in Berkeley County reaffirms the split character of the county's "plumbing," said Hugh Bevans, the federal agency's Water Science Center director for West Virginia.

"Rainfall across the (325-square mile) area is about the same," Bevans said. "It's the geology that makes the difference."

The geological character of the county largely is split between the eastern part's karst limestone and the western part's more stable and predictable shale formations, Bevans said.

The characteristics of each part are more readily apparent on a map generated by the USGS study, which shows color-shaded craggily shaped areas side by side in the karst region with extremely different levels of groundwater flow.

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In southeastern Berkeley County, for example, an area that includes Priestfield Spring yielded the highest rate of water output - between 801 and 2,280 gallons per day per acre - than any other, Bevans said.

The areas around it, however, produced significantly less.

"You might put a well down and have very little yield," Bevans said. But by moving as little as 100 yards, the output could be much higher because of a fault in the limestone, he said.

In the USGS report, authors Ronald D. Evaldi and Katherine S. Paybins said that the rate at which groundwater is replaced or is recharged is difficult to measure because the calculation not only involves geology, but precipitation, vegetative cover, temperature, runoff, infiltration rates and topography.

"Should long-term use of ground water exceed its rate of replenishment, water shortages could result," the authors said.

Zoning regulations could be implemented to avoid that possibility, particularly in areas served by wells and not within the county or City of Martinsburg's public water districts, officials have said.

Zoning Advisory Committee member Carolyn Thomas believes the USGS study complements the county's updated comprehensive plan, a guide now being used by the panel to draft a land-use ordinance for county voters to consider next year.

"Our challenge is to create a land-use tool that mirrors what our residents want," Thomas said.

As the committee's work moves forward, developers are rushing to get their projects approved under existing county regulations, which have little power to guide developments.

"By the time we get ready to zone, what's going to be left," Thomas said.

For more information, the USGS report is available at pubs.usgs.gov/ds/2006/216/

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