What Science says

Bryan Times, Aug. 18, 2018 (report by Josh Ewers, Township Assn. passes resolution … ) During the course of discussion Terry Rummel revealed some of what was delved into at a meeting last week featuring one official from seven of the nine counties in three states over the aquifer.

“They all came to the conclusion that they all want to be on board with studying it, hiring our own hydrologists,” Rummel said.  “We want to have our own study.”

Rummel also indicated that after conversations with Jim Watson of Watson Well Drilling, Inc., whose firm has been hired to impartially conduct the test well component of Kidston’s plan, that he independently supports a long-term strategy of monitoring the aquifer’s levels regardless of the outcome of the current debate.

“His (Watson’s) opinion is that we go out and do test wells and have four test wells in every township so that we know that water level,” said Rummel.

“I believe thoroughly that the monitoring system is the wave of the future and we need to see that like our weather forecast and eventually we’ll know how much rain has hit, and how fast that’s recharging, so we’ll know how hard we can go,” he added.

“For me, I’m going to push the daylights out of that and even if the Kidston thing goes or doesn’t go, I’m pretty committed to staying on task to pull this together.”  … “Hopefully we can at least get the monitoring thing done, at least in Williams County.”

Bryan Times, Aug. 25, 2018 (report by Josh Ewers, Science and law are topics)  Only new test data can definitively prove what effect Artesian of Pioneer’s plan to drill into the Michindoh aquifer will or will not have on the aquifer as a whole, and individual wells.

Hydrologist Jack Wittman, Ph.D., vice president and Midwest principal geoscientist at Intera GeoScience and Engineering Solutions explained that an aquifer is a layer of sediments found above bedrock.  “It’s sand and gravel interspersed with clay.”

According to a U.S. Geological Survey of the Michindoh from 1984 to 1986, that layer ranges in thickness from 80 to 320 feet in Williams County, based on the assessment of 87 wells and several thousand well logs.

The recharge rate for the aquifer varies based on a number of factors and by section of the aquifer, from 2 to 8 inches a year, according to numbers produced in 1977 (Pettyjohn & Hemming) cited in both the 1984-1986 USGS study and a 2007 study conducted by Tritium Inc.

According to the latter, over 50 percent of Williams County’s portion of the aquifer’s recharge comes from precipitation, and the other portion from groundwater flow from the northwest.

The 2 to 8 inches of recharge is compiled with a number of factors playing a role, some of which have changed quite a bit since 1977.

(Readers see Ed Kidston says comments Bryan Times, Aug. 28 quoting Wittman’s statement:

“He said not much changes over time,” Kidston said. “So, once you drill and once you test and once you confirm the results, you can depend on those results for decades and decades and decades because what you find today will still be true 100 years from now.”  I do not agree this is an accurate restatement of Wittman’s intent.

For one, there’s the proliferation of drainage tile and tillable land use in the county, which could potentially further limit the amount of precipitation making its way down to the aquifer, according to Wittman.

“Tiling fields does one huge thing.  It changes the amount of water that you can store in your aquifer,” said Wittman.  “Tile drains take off water that would’ve bulged up as you get more and more recharge.  It drains that top down and reduces the amount of water you can store in an aquifer.  It intercepts recharge.”

“If it’s really cold, recharge doesn’t really stop, but you’re usually storing it as snow, above the ground, and then that snow percolates as it melts.  That’s some of the most effective recharge,” said Wittman.  “Before the plants have started … that water will move through the soil at a slow rate into the deeper part of the aquifer.  Sometimes winter is the critical season for recharge.  It can be.  It really depends on the place.”

“The aquifer is why there are streams when there’s no rain for a month.  The aquifers are bleeding into the streams, the streams are fed by the upper part of the aquifer,” said Wittman.  “Streams are pumping all the time from the aquifer.  Nobody thinks about that.”

Wittman also indicated that a percentage of the water that actually makes it to the aquifer, makes it to the deeper part of the aquifer where municipal wells are typically drilled.

And of course, some water leaves the system through non-natural means.  “How much water do we have? does not include the plume of nastiness that you don’t want to use,” said Wittman.

“There’s all sorts of things … you can have high nitrate areas in agricultural settings.  No one can really pump that and use it as public supply without extra treatment.  You can also get solvents in the industrial areas.”

“This is not some mystery, it’s the opposite,” said Wittman.  “You can solve it using instruments and tools.  To do that kind of thing is going to take hundreds of thousands (of dollars) if you’re going to drill new wells; It’s less if you’re using existing wells,” said Wittman.  “But the fact is that kind of testing is usually fairly expensive, but it gives you answers that you don’t have to figure out again.  You can go forward with that.  Once you have it, it doesn’t change that much.”

(Reader, to me Wittman is saying the testing apparatus once installed does not change that much.  He is not saying the condition of the aquifer does not change much.  Kidston quotes Wittman as saying “not much changes over time. … so once you drill and once you test and once you confirm the results, you can depend on those results for decades … because what you find today will still be true 100 years from now.”  See “Ed Kidston says” Bryan Times Aug. 28, 2018.  Also see “Resources – Science” for aquifer studies that do show change over time.  Also, both Wittman and Feenstra point out that agricultural tiling is reducing the amount of groundwater.)

Additionally, he said groundwater is an increasingly utilized commodity.  From 1950 to 2010, groundwater withdrawal increased from 175 billion gallons a day to 325 billion gallons a day in the United States, according to the American GeoSciences Institute.

And as the project moves forward and more wells are drilled across the globe, “cone of depression” will likely become an oft-repeated term in the news cycle.

“You create a cone of depression around the well.  It’s how the well works.  You pump out of the well and the water level in the well itself lowers,” said Wittman.  “Because the water in the well is lower to some degree than the aquifer outside of it, the aquifer tries to fill it up, pours in from all sides and the amount and speed that water can move through the aquifer and into the well determines how much you could pump out of the well.”

The cone of depression concept is the one that causes farmers and residential well drillers concern, as the depth, associated geological conditions and proximity to other wells that create a cone of depression, determine whether or not a proximal well’s level will be lowered.

“If the aquifer is really productive maybe no one will notice.  If it doesn’t create too much of a cone of depression it won’t affect anyone,” Wittman said of a hypothetical well drilling.  “On the other hand, the reason my profession exists is that doesn’t work out all the time.”

Bryan Times Aug. 28, 2018 (report by Lucas Bechtol, Kidston makes a case)  One of the topics Feenstra wanted to address was what was going on with the aquifer. “The USGS (United States Geological Survey) maintains three permanent monitoring wells around the City of Bryan with records going back 30-40 years,” he said, adding long-term trends can be easily found on the government agency’s website.

USGS also maintains three wells in LaGrange, Elkhart and Noble counties in Indiana with 30 years of daily water level measurements. Three wells are located in Hillsdale County, Michigan, and another is located in Lenawee County, Michigan, though those don’t have as extensive data as those in Ohio and Indiana. There are also stream gauges, including one near Stryker.

All of this data is indicating, showing there is no aquifer depletion occurring,” Feenstra said. “There is also no depletion of stream flow occurring. As a matter of fact, even though it is cyclical and it may be up or down a few feet, we are right now at a 10-year-plus high in groundwater levels and stream discharge. So, there is a long-term rising trend.”

In order to go through with the AOP project, Feenstra said testing must be done and meet various requirements set by the Ohio administrative code, including mapping.

Testing will include 72 hours of continuous pumping with observations coming from three days before pumping to set conditions and three days after to observe recovery.

“It’s important to see full recharge happen before pumping resumes,” Feenstra said. “The whole goal is to make sure there is a sustainable well field that does not deplete the water of the aquifer system.”

All of the data will need to be written up with predictions made for drought conditions, he said, meaning the well will need to be able to run for 100 days of pumping with no recharge.

“If we get to that stage and a well field goes in, then a source water protection plan must be created,” Feenstra added.  All of the work will be reviewed by his peers at the Ohio EPA and Ohio Department of Natural Resources, he added. Site-specific testing will be done where the well will go because every production well is unique.

“The goal is to determine if this new withdrawal can be sustained by the aquifer system without causing harm to the environment or to other users,” Feenstra said. “This is a well-established plan that has been implemented nationwide, specifically in Ohio, Michigan and Indiana.”