Imagine one sleepy Saturday morning, you shuffle to the kitchen and turn on the faucet and the familiar sound of tap water is eerily absent. “I turned on the water and nothing. There was just nothing,” said Ronda Moore, one of landowners whose well stopped providing water in early December. That was also the case for several households on Greenbush Road, just south of Ferry Road, where a cluster of wells ceased drawing and providing water.
One of those wells, which serves Moore’s home, also serves five other households. Mark Mosher, also on the same well, had a similar experience, “All of a sudden we all turned on our faucets, and no water.”
Chevalier Drilling, the well drilling service that handled the call, suggested using a temporary water reservoir while the issue was investigated and resolved. Claude Chevalier, president of Chevalier Drilling said, “We recently had uptick number of calls from well owners in a particular area, but we got them all straightened out now. Nobody’s able to tell what’s happening, the water table dropped a little bit.”
The well was deeper than initially thought and did not have be redrilled, but according to Moore and Mosher a new, bigger pump was installed and lowered to the new groundwater level. Chevalier said, “One well was deepened, one pump was lowered,” said Chevalier. “All in all wasn’t as a bad it as it seemed.”
Potential factors: Clay soils and summer drought
This well, along with other wells in the area, is in an area with a lot of clay and silt, which has low permeability and can affect the recharge potential for groundwater, according to a 2010 study of the hydrology of Charlotte.
One of the authors of the study, Marjorie Gale, a Vermont state geologist and director of the Vermont Geological Survey in the Department of Environmental Conservation, said “travel time through impervious materials [affects] recharge potential” and those thick layers of impermeable clay and silt make it hard for water to make its way below ground. Gale’s study also included groundwater maps which show that water flows away from Greenbush Road and impacts the recharge in the area. Additionally, she noted, the recent summer drought may have had a latent impact on groundwater in the state.
Sille Larsen, a senior water resources engineer in the Vermont Department of Health, provided additional information on groundwater and water testing. She recommends affected landowners test or retest their wells because, “Once you have these changes in hydraulics in the system, you will see changes in quantity of water, and will see changes in the quality of water.”
The question on the minds of affected landowners was “Why”? And while no clear answer exists, Gale, Larsen and Chevalier all agree that the summer drought had an impact on the water table. “We had a drought in summer, and there is a lag time,” said Gale. And the cluster of wells? “Sounds like they were taking from the same aquifer,” said Larsen.
According to the Vermont Department of Health there are no testing requirements for private wells. However, to ensure that drinking water is safe, the following testing schedule is recommended:
- Kit A – Total Coliform Bacterial test (annually)
- Kit C – Inorganic Chemical Test (every five years)
- Kit RA – Gross Alpha Radiation Test (every five years)
You can find more information and order kits online.
Groundwater and town planning
“It’s all in water balance—what comes in and what comes out—that’s why we do these studies,” said Gale. “These studies highlight areas potentially more favorable, routinely higher yielding wells that are more readily accessible. You don’t develop in an area with a limited water supply that can’t support the population. Fortunately in Vermont we have fairly abundant water.” About the 2010 study she added, “Charlotte was pretty proactive on this groundwater issue…the town had a lot of interest in how to build [groundwater] into a town plan.”
The 2008 Charlotte town plan includes a section on groundwater, noting “Additional work is needed, however, to identify and map ground water resources and understand resource characteristics and any limitations…. Only in this way can the Town rationally plan for development, and take measures to protect groundwater quantity and quality for current and future residents.” The town plan acknowledged limited groundwater supplies in portions of the West Village and that “a clearer understanding [is needed] of the potential impacts on current users and of the quantity and quality of potable water.”
The 2018 Charlotte Town Plan contains less information about groundwater, labeling “water supply and ground water recharge areas” as areas of high public value. (As of now, it looks like there are no planned changes to the sub-section that covers waste water and potable water in the 2019 amendments to the Town Plan.) Peter Joslin, Chair of the Planning Commission said, “We have a plan to look at in more detail, but we don’t know when. Right now our focus is on the energy section [of the town plan]. We are also undertaking updating the land use regs. We don’t forsee anything specific, or more updates to the town plan other than the energy section, but there doesn’t mean there couldn’t be.”
Moore and Mosher expressed concerns about additional development in the West Village as it relates to groundwater and septic and have brought their concerns to the town at Selectboard and Planning Commission meetings as recently as last month. Moore also shared articles from The Charlotte News and the Burlington Free Press, which have previously covered this subject, saying, “It’s not like people are quiet or unaware.” She would like to see the town establish a water committee, similar to the waste water committee. “There is a water problem in the West Village, everything we said, we predicted. It’s happened. It’s reality.”
“I have a 10,000 gallon cistern in an ice house in the backyard,” Moore said. “I might have to think about getting that going again.”