Methods of finding water discussed at Karst Conference

September 15, 2009|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. -- Exactly how much water lies beneath the surface of the Shenandoah Valley is unknown, but those in search of it are having to drill deeper each year to find it, according to a James Madison University geologist.

"I think there's a fair amount of water here in the valley, nobody really knows how much. The U.S. Geological Survey is working on those kinds of questions," said JMU Associate Professor Scott Eaton in an interview at the 2009 Growing Communities on Karst Conference near Shepherdstown.

"From anecdotal evidence, we can talk with drillers and they're having to go deeper each year to find water, which tells me that over the last 20 years, we've been taking more water out than we've been putting into it, and that it is pause for concern to think about what's happening," Eaton said.

Eaton, who spoke about the use of geology to find water, was among the last of several presenters at the two-day conference held at the National Conservation Training Center.


"People seemed to enjoy the caving experience (on Monday) ... everybody came out happy and dirty," said Rebecca MacLeod, coordinator for the Potomac Headwaters Resource Conservation & Development (RC&D) Council. The RC&D council and the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection sponsored the conference.

The event concluded with a presentation by Louis Matacia on the art of dowsing, or water witching, which Eaton wouldn't entirely dismiss as a method for locating water beneath the earth's surface.

"It really depends on who you are talking to," Eaton said of dowsing, which involves the use of Y-shaped or L-shaped rods.

"If you're going to have a dowser come, that's OK. ... I would also advocate obtaining a second opinion," Eaton said.

Through a technique known as fracture-trace analysis, Eaton said individuals may only have to spend as little as $500 to find adequate water sources.

After determining the location being explored, "stereo" photographs of the land that can be seen as a three- dimensional image through a stereoscope are studied for fractures, breaks and cracks in the ground, which leads drillers to water.

"Sometimes it may be at some great depth, maybe 500 to 700 feet, but about 80 to 90 percent of the time (in the valley's karst topography), we can find that water if it's there," Eaton said. Prominent in eastern West Virginia, karst topography covers nearly 25 percent of the nation, and is characterized by sinkholes, caves and underground drainages, according the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).

Though pioneered in the 1970s by two geologists at Pennsylvania State University, Eaton said there are actually very few people in the region who are doing fracture-trace analysis and he has been teaching students at JMU the affordable technique to help more people find water.

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