City explores effects of its wells

Published 9:31 pm Wednesday, November 18, 2009

You may have seen the letter and decided it didn’t apply to you, choosing then to throw it away. You may have seen it and scratched your head, wondering what it meant, deciding then that it probably wasn’t all that important.

Either way, if you got a letter from the city of Suffolk asking whether your home has a deep well, and if you didn’t respond to it, Craig Ziesemer wants to hear from you.

As Suffolk’s assistant director of public utilities, Ziesemer has been making the rounds recently in a portion of North Suffolk and Isle of Wight to make sure people understand why the city wants to know about how they get their water.

As Suffolk prepares to bring online a new deep well of its own, officials are taking steps to make sure they don’t ruin any private or community wells that could be affected.

“This mitigation has never been done before that I’m aware of,” he said Tuesday.

The new municipal well, located off of Moores Point Road in North Suffolk, has a capacity of 4.5 million gallons per day and is permitted to withdraw an annual average of 1.6 million gallons per day.

“There are no other wells like this up here,” he said, standing near the massive pipes that will remove water from more than 1,000 feet deep, pull it to the surface and transport it more than five miles to the G. Robert House water treatment plant, where some fluoride will be removed before the water is sent on its way to homes and businesses in Suffolk and Isle of Wight.

“This well is up in an area that has never seen this kind of pumpage,” Ziesemer added.

The potential problem with the new well — as with all municipal wells — is the eventual impact they can have on the water table.

As large volumes of water are removed from the aquifer, the water table drops slightly each year, Ziesemer told a group of Ruritans during a recent meeting in which he was the guest speaker. As the water table drops, some people with deep wells could find their pumps are no longer submerged. Unless the condition were discovered quickly — and the pump shut off — the well could be ruined, requiring another one to be drilled.

Most folks who have deep wells and have lived in the area for a long period of time already have experienced falling water tables resulting from the thousands of other public, private and community wells that have been drilled into the Potomac Aquifer, Ziesemer told the Ruritans.

The simple solution in such cases is drilling the well a bit deeper, and governments around Hampton Roads participate in a “groundwater mitigation fund” that will help pay for work.

Through a similar program, Suffolk has been sending letters to property owners in an area within about three and a half to five miles of the Moore’s Point well. The letters ask recipients to notify the city about any deep wells they might have on their property — whether for drinking water, for heat pumps, for landscape watering or any other use.

Those with deep wells — and those who are unsure about their wells and ask for help — will get a visit from the public works department, which can gauge the depth of the well and the mitigation necessary to keep it from being adversely impacted by the new municipal well.

The best part is that the city will pay for the work, up to and including drilling a completely new well, if necessary.

So far, Ziesemer said, the city has registered 1,100 wells in the area, has sent out 100 access agreements to landowners and has mitigated about 50 wells, including two that had to be drilled anew.

In the end, doing the work now is cheaper that doing it later, he explained, and making an effort to let folks know what could happen ahead of time can save public works employees headaches and hard feelings down the road.

“It’s in our best interest to see that it gets done right the first time,” he said.

So, if you got one of those letters, Ziesemer would like to make sure you send it back. And if you don’t have it anymore, or if you need more information, call 514-7024.