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Published: Wednesday, 3/20/2002

Water-level drop in Monroe County wells blamed on quarries

BY LARRY P. VELLEQUETTE
BLADE STAFF WRITER

LAMBERTVILLE - A recently released government study concludes what many area residents presumed: Monroe County's eight active quarries are probably the main reason that wells across the area are going dry.

Hundreds of area residents have complained in recent years about dropping water levels in their wells and a decline in water quality. Their complaints motivated area lawmakers to fund a comprehensive study of the county's water table.

The $150,000 study is a two-phase look at the county's groundwater supplies that was started in October by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and the U.S. Geologic Survey.

The first phase, which was completed earlier this year and released this month, found that the eight quarries use 75 percent of the county water drawn out of the ground each day.

It also concluded that the underground water tables in the area have dropped significantly over the last 10 years, with the greatest drops coming in the areas where quarries are most active.

According to the study's findings, the average drop in the water table in 31 observation wells scattered across the county was 12 feet.

One well near a new quarry in Monroe Charter Township dropped 80 feet between 1991 and 2001.

Ground water levels were first tracked beginning in 1979. According to the study, the rate of decline between 1998 and 2001 is greater than in the previous 19 years.

In addition to mapping groundwater levels between 1991 and 2001, the study researched several factors that are likely contributors to that level and their potential impact.

Almost all of the contributing factors - precipitation, irrigation, Lake Erie water levels, and extraction for residential or municipal uses - showed little or no long-term change over the 10-year cycle.

But the amount of water drawn out of the ground by the county's eight quarries has more than doubled since 1991 to about 20 million gallons a day. That water is largely directed into the surface streams and drains eventually to Lake Erie. Dewatering allows quarries to mine below the level of ground water.

By comparison, the city of Toledo, with about twice the population of Monroe County, uses 43.2 million gallons of water from Lake Erie every day. It also pumps an additional 30 million gallons a day for use by residents, business, and industry in Lucas County and portions of Wood, Fulton, and southern Monroe County, said Bob Stevenson, Toledo's acting commissioner of treatment services.

Michigan's laws do not allow users of an underground aquifer to seek compensation from upstream users if something happens to their water supply. However, several bills under consideration in the legislature could change that, local officials said.

Jack Zouhary, general counsel for S.E. Johnson Co., the parent firm for three of the county's quarries, said his firm is studying the report and will meet this week to determine if the company should have a response.

“We're sensitive to the complaints of our neighbors, and when our neighbors do have a complaint, we try to meet with them to try and seek out a solution to their problem,” Mr. Zouhary said.

But he questioned some aspects of the study that estimated uses for agricultural irrigation and residential usage and said they may be having a larger impact on dropping water levels than the report indicates.

“What may be perceived as a quarry impacting the quality or depth of a well is often not the quarry but other factors,” Mr. Zouhary said.

A second $150,000 phase of the study, which must first be funded by the legislature, would determine what, if anything, can or should be done to protect the drinking water used by many county residents.

“Some people are surprised at the findings, some people acknowledge that this is an ongoing problem, but this puts the problem on paper,” said Peter Wills, an administrative aide for State Rep. Gene DeRosett (R., Manchester).



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