What Science says

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.

… In that vein, a hydrologist recently talked to a group in Angola, Indiana, about factors that will ultimately come into play, a lack of regulation on ground water, and how an aquifer functions.

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. 

“In between this material, there’s a lot of stuff In here that is definitely not aquifer material,” said Wittman.  “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.

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.”

Other factors play into recharge as well, such as seasonal concerns.  “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.”

Streams too are a part of the aquifer system.  “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.)

(Reader see Bryan Times Aug. 25, 2018 under What the Law Says for Wittman’s comments on the legal environment.)

Additionally, he said groundwater is an increasingly utilized commodity.  “There are more wells today than there used to be …” said Wittman.  “Growth is happening in pumping ground water.  The lines from 30 years ago have been going up in groundwater use.  That is not unique to this county, not to this state and not to this country.  that is happening globally.  Everyone is drilling more wells.”

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.”

A cone of depression’s range depends largely on frequency of well use.

 

Bryan Times Aug. 28, 2018 (report by Lucas Bechtol, Kidston makes a case; the first of a two-part series covering Ed Kidston’s presentation and a question-and-answer session to the Montpelier Village Council)  (Reader:  The first two paragraphs of this report are omitted)  Kidston said he was reminded of a saying: “You can’t be an expert unless you’re at least 30 miles from home.  Tonight I brought a highly qualified and highly respected expert from Elkhart, Indiana,” he said.  “Todd Feenstra knows our aquifer as good or better than any single expert.  As owner of Tritium, Inc., he was hired by Bryan, Ohio, several years ago when they studied the aquifer in 2007 for sole-source designation”

Kidston said Feenstra would be the one consulting with AOP throughout the project and will be presenting the facts to the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and other regulatory agencies.

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.”

(Reader: At this point Kidston refers to statements made by Jack Wittman, PhD from his presentation in Angola.  See Ed Kidston says, Bryan Times, Aug. 28, for the analysis)

 

Bryan Times, Sept. 11, 2018 (report by Josh Ewers Counties meet about Michindoh: Three states, six counties gather to discuss aquifer)  The meeting was attended heavily by local officials on hand to hear presentations from U.S. Geological Survey hydrologists, Watson Well Drilling Inc. personnel and also to touch on future plans …

According to USGS officials, before work can get started tracking overall usage and stresses moving forward, work should be done by the USGS to better understand and map the aquifer and its relationships with the watershed in order for information drawn from test wells to be effectively utilized, as the aquifer’s depth, materials therein and environmental factors are far from uniform across its area.

Recent “improved” compilations of “multi=-state-based water well and bedrock drilling records” done at the federal level (Bayless, 2017 and Lampe, 2009) would be used on a preliminary basis for the USGS proposal.

The proposal would seek to show, with as much specificity  as possible, what the various areas of the aquifer look like as a preliminary step to eventually helping determine things like recharge rates, which are highly site-specific throughout the aquifer’s area, due to differing thickness, clay versus gravel, etc.

During the mapping process, estimations of what lies in the gaps of that information would be made alongside recommendations on further well drilling needs to fill in gaps where estimation is not possible or useful.

“You can understand how a system works by how it works under stresses,” said Paul Buszka, supervisory hydrologist in the USGS’s Hydrologic Investigations section, “not just what’s happening in the now, but understanding what happens during times of plentiful water and drought.

“This is the first stage of the groundwork you have to lay,” he said.  “The idea is we need to lay the framework where we try to understand what’s between what is known and the bedrock.

“It’s quality assurance to make sure the answers, the interpretations we’re coming up with are things that are defensible and you can go on with.”

Total cost for aquifer information amalgamation, mapping and subsequent computerized groundwater flow simulations was stated at $100,000 by USGS officials, a total that would be reduced to $70,000 after matching grants by the federal government.

 

Bryan Times, Oct. 16, 2018 (Report by Kevin M. Maynard, Director of Utilities, Glaciers created the Michindoh aquifer)  Williams County’s geology was permanently altered by a number of glaciers that once covered the area, the last of which occurred approximately 13,000 years ago.  These glaciers pushed through Williams County like huge bulldozers, scraping up everything in their paths.

As the glaciers advanced and retreated, they deposited materials on top of local bedrock, leaving a diverse underground mixture of discontinuous water-bearing sand and gravel lenses and layers topped with clay.  Glacial materials deposited on area bedrock range in depth from approximately 320 feet in northwestern Williams County to less than 80 feet in Springfield Township.

Local clay deposits make it difficult for rain and snow melt to percolate into the so-called “Michindoh aquifer” below.  The United States Geological Survey (USGS) estimates approximately one-half of Williams County’s groundwater enters the aquifer in the “chain of lakes” region running roughly from Angola, Indiana, to Hillsdale, Michigan.  County bedrock and land surface elevations descend from northwest to southeast, causing groundwater to generally flow in that direction.

As the land surface descends toward Bryan, groundwater attempts to “seek its own level” or in other words rise to the same elevation that it entered the aquifer.  However, in the same manner that clay restricts rainwater and snow melt from percolating into the aquifer, it also impedes this upward water movement, creating artesian pressure.  When wells are drilled through the clay layer, artesian pressure causes water to rise in the well casings.  For example, Bryan municipal water system wells are 120 to 147 feet deep, but water rises in the well casings to approximately 30 to 35 feet below the ground surface due to artesian pressure.

During a three-year USGS study of Williams County groundwater resources in the 1980s, water levels in 87 wells across the county were monitored for two years.  Water levels were generally less than 30 feet below land surface elevation.  No water levels greater than 75 feet below the land surface were observed during the study.

In some cases, such as at the former Fountain Grove Cemetery sexton’s residence on South Main Street, flowing artesian wells were identified.  Water levels in most of the USGS study wells fluctuated less than four feet over a two-year monitoring period.

As mentioned earlier, approximately one-half of Michindoh aquifer recharge flows into Williams County from Michigan and Indiana.  Additional aquifer recharge results from rain and snow that falls on Williams County.  However, of an average 34 inches per year o local precipitation, the USGS estimates that only 2-8 inches ends up recharging the Michindoh aquifer.

With the exception of southeastern Williams County, local well yields can exceed 500 gallons per minute (gpm).  The City of Bryan has several municipal wells capable of producing 1,000 gpm or more.

Local groundwater is generally suitable for most uses, although it is very hard and high in iron.  Forty-eight Williams County wells were sampled for chemical contamination as part of the USGS 1980s groundwater resources study, with no problem areas identified at that time.

Bryan Times, Nov. 17, 2018 (report by Ron Osburn, Michindoh Aquifer explained)  Withdrawing 10 million gallons of water per day from the Michindoh Aquifer from sites near Fayette would have a “significant” impact on Williams County, according to Jeremy Rentz, an environmental engineering professor at Trine University.

“That one, single project would dwarf any single water user collectively across the county.  It would instantly be the second largest water withdrawer in the aquifer,”  Rentz told about 125 people during a 90-minute presentation and question-and-answer session at the Pioneer Community Center Thursday evening.

The Michindoh Aquifer is an underground water source that stretches across nine counties in Ohio, Michigan and Indiana.  It provides water for an estimated 400,000 people living in parts of those states and is the sole source of water for Williams County.

Artesian of Pioneer, owned by Pioneer Mayor Ed Kidston, currently is drilling test wells into the Michindoh at a site owned by Kidston south of Fayette, in anticipation of selling anywhere from 4 to 14 million gallons per day to entities outside Williams County.

Rentz on Thursday did not specifically mention Artesian of Pioneer or Kidston but he did question the long-term “sustainability” of withdrawing another 10 million gallons per day from the Michindoh.

Rentz showed a graphic of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources well log, showing the locations of several thousand wells in Williams, Defiance and Fulton counties.  He said while some wells could be abandoned, others are operational and represent “all the people that could potentially be impacted.

“An awful lot of people use this aquifer as a resource.  The impact, how many people this project affects, is quite significant,” said Rentz, who was invited to speak by the Williams County Alliance, a local grassroots group that is actively opposing AOP’s plan.

Rentz noted that groundwater depletion, or withdrawing water from an underground aquifer faster than it can be replenished, “is rampant” across the United States, citing examples such as the Ogallala Aquifer in the Great Plains.

“There’s been too many examples of pumping and pumping and pumping, and now you’ve got significant problems,” he said.

He pointed out that 10 million gallons per day is 25 percent of the amount of groundwater currently being withdrawn from the aquifer in Williams, Fulton, Hillsdale and Lenawee counties.

“It’s something that’s a concern to me,” said Rentz.

Rentz explained the Michindoh Aquifer is not a solid underground body of water, like a river or lake, but is water that occupies the nooks and crannies between the layers of sand and gravel.  In addition, the sand and gravel aquifer layer lies in a confined space between layers of clay and bedrock, and clay has very low permeability (i.e. water does not flow through it very easily).

He said in some locations the sand and gravel is very thick and wells can produce a lot of water, while in other areas the aquifer is thinner, producing less water.

He also said rates the aquifer is replenished by rainwater and surface water vary depending on the thickness of the layers of clay.  For instance, in some areas of the Michindoh — around Angola, Indiana, for instance — the recharge rate is up to 10 inches per year, while a band from Pioneer to Edgerton recharges at 2 inches or less per year.

He also noted that groundwater flows very, very slowly, at about 6 feet per day (for comparison, a snail can travel 3,800 feet a day).  That means the rate of recharge within a pump’s radius of influence — or how far away from the well the effects of groundwater withdrawal are felt — is also very, very slow.

“This water travels very, very, very slowly and that’s one of the things that causes some concern,” he said, noting that once a significant amount of water is withdrawn from the aquifer, it cannot be replenished fast enough.

Rentz said he extrapolated data from a Michindoh Aquifer study done by Alban W. Coen in 1989, which was also incorporated into the City of Bryan’s larger 2007 Sole Source Aquifer Petition, which was not adopted by the state.

Rentz pointed out the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency mandates that if a water system is to supply 10 million gallons per day, the system must actually be able to pump 20 million gallons daily, which requires a larger number of pumping wells, which in turn impacts a much larger area and number of people.

“For this reason I urge you to call your elected officials and ask them to do further studies,” Rentz said, noting that while he can provide educational data, he’s unable to perform data modeling on the aquifer, which he said is really the only way “to find out how much (the withdrawal) will actually impact you.”

He suggested those in attendance contact the Ohio Water Resource Center in Columbus, which could be a resource for the data modeling.  The website is https://wrc.osu.edu/.

Rentz also suggested that the communities near Toledo can access all the water they need from smaller aquifers underneath the communities, or from the Maumee River.  He also said technology exists to use reclaimed water, plus the Lucas County Water Resource Recovery Facility (wastewater plant) plans to expand its capacity to 30 million gallons per day.

The presentation was taped and is available on Bryan cable television.