Experts answer questions about groundwater in Albemarle County
On June 25, 2007, the
League of Women Voters of Charlottesville-Albemarle
held the first of three forums on groundwater in our area. A crowd of about seventy people filled the Ivy Creek Natural Area Education Building to hear four panelists discuss the technology behind well-drilling, how septic tanks work, and what home owners who are on wells can do to protect the quality of their water.
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of the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors said the forums are being held in the memory of Treva and Howard Cromwell, a pair of school-teachers who moved to the area in the 1970’s who became active in water quality issues through the League’s Natural Resources Committee. Treva Cromwell served for seven years on the
Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority
, and was the only woman to ever serve as Chair.
The first speaker was Nick Evans, the Chair of the
Thomas Jefferson Soil and Water Conservation District
. Evans is a specialist in hydrogeology, and he’s the president of the firm
Virginia Groundwater Inc
. The company helps people locate water underground by sending electric pulses into the ground to map the bedrock.
“We put a bunch of stakes in the ground and you run electricity and then working with the computer we’re able to come up with an image. Having run a couple hundreds of these surveys, it’s pretty reliable for showing where water is, and where it isn’t.”
Evans says he is often consulted by developers who are looking to know if they can find a well, but sometimes they come to him far too late in the planning process.
The second speaker was Jeff McDaniel, the
Environmental Health Manager for the Thomas Jefferson Health District
. He discussed how septic systems work, and recommends that homeowners with septic systems flush their tanks at least once every five years.
“Septic tank maintenance is crucial, it’s kind of like changing their oil in your car. If you don’t do it enough you’ll be replacing your entire drainfield.”
The third speaker was David Swales, the former
Groundwater Manager for Albemarle County
. He gave a status report on the county’s efforts to monitor groundwater quality for pollutants, an initiative
passed by the Board of Supervisors in 2006
. Swales says the ordinance sets up a voluntary information-gathering process, but is non-regulatory.
Swales described one hypothetical bad case. “There’s a leaky underground storage case adjacent [to the property], and there’s a public well on one side, and an old landfill on the other, and a state highway with lots of road salts on the fourth side. A lot of bad stuff.” Despite the potential dangers, Swales said that neither the planning commission nor the Board of Supervisors could not deny a building application based on that threat alone, but could recommend alternatives.
“In an ideal situation, we would work with the developer to rearrange the lots, or at least try to put the house sites in a better position,” he said.
The final speaker is Lonnie Moore, the President and Manager of the C. R. Moore Drilling Company. He talked about the general history of his family’s business, which was started in 1930.
Moore said a lot of people today do not realize how much water they use in a given day, and that many times he has to explain to his customers that their consumption is limited by what can be pumped from the ground. “You don’t need as much as you think you do,” he said. He said changing fashions in home-building practices during his three and a half decades as a driller of wells have placed more pressure on groundwater.
“Some of you probably remember back when you were growing up, you had one bathroom, a kitchen sink, and that was about it. Today, you go into a family of four people, you got four bathrooms, a laundry room, and an automatic washer.” He said the well-building industry has improved their technology to keep up with demand, but there are limits.
After each panelist spoke, the panel answered questions ranging from the practice of dowsing, whether homeowners with wells have to comply with water restrictions during drought emergencies, and what other kinds of pollutants can seep into groundwater.
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