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This log contains all of our recent "Drilling Deeper" articles and postings.

No on Eastham Town Water

Article By: RonAtlantic on April 30, 2012

Many customers and Eastham residents have asked my opinion on the town water issue. Yes, I have a vested interest in the outcome of the town meeting vote, so you should realize that my comments may not be entirely impartial. However, our business deals with the groundwater here every day and I am likely more intimately familiar with our water than any one else.

My opinion is that we do not presently need a town water system and that we will likely never need one. Consider the following:

Water Quality: For about 10 years the Town has been testing our private well water quality for nitrates, the principal contaminant of concern. These tests indicate no dramatic change. This is also true for tests that go back to the early 1980’s. All of this extensive testing shows that only 1% to 2% of our private wells exceed the state and federal maximum nitrate level of 10 ppm. I look at the same data the Town is using and come to a completely different conclusion. There is no trend indicating that we are headed for a groundwater quality disaster. The number of problem wells has been remarkably stable over the years.

In addition to nitrates, every new well drilled in Eastham over the last 12 years has been tested for Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC’s). These are approximately 60 contaminants such as cleaning fluids and gasoline additives that are tested to trace levels (parts per billion). Of the hundreds of wells we have drilled, none of them have had VOC’s that have exceeded the government standards. By the VOC measure our groundwater quality is excellent.

Finally, lets look at bacteriological water quality. This is the basic measure of water quality and commonly involves testing for Coliform Bacteria. When we do see this problem it is either a result of improper testing procedures (the sample was inadvertently contaminated by the person taking the sample) or because of a damaged wellhead. Repair of the wellhead and chlorination of the well corrects the problem. The important point is that we do not see bacteriological contamination originating in the aquifer. When such contamination does exist elsewhere is often the result of septic systems, farm animals, or storm runoff. Nationwide, the most common reason for a community to install a water system is bacteriological contamination of the aquifer. We are very fortunate here on Cape Cod that our sand and gravel deposits act as a very effective natural filtration system. Further, for the majority of Eastham parcels, being a half acre or larger, the 100’ separation between well and septic allows this natural filter system to work remarkably well.

So, the question boils down to: Should we spend potentially 200 million dollars (after interest costs, inflation, and potential cost overruns) for a problem that effects about 100 of our wells? Ninety nine percent of our private wells are delivering clean, potable water.

In the handful of cases we have encountered with elevated nitrates in the last 10 years, we have always been able to solve the problem. Since water quality changes with depth, we have been able to either pull the well screen up to a shallower level or drill the well deeper and restore the well to acceptable nitrate levels. When we can no longer successfully correct a nitrate problem, then it might be time for town water.

Town Sewers: Within the next 10 years or so, it appears that the State DEP will force us to sewer at least one third of the town. We won’t have a choice in the matter; we will have to do it. Sewer systems cost more than water systems, and even a limited sewer system could exceed the cost of the water system. There is no way the small town of Eastham, with an annual budget of $20 million, can afford to undertake both projects.

I do not see the justification, from a water quality standpoint, for a town water system. I urge you to vote NO on the issue.

Ron Peterson is the owner of Atlantic Well Drilling and has 40 years experience in the ground water industry. He is a licensed engineer in Massachusetts, a licensed well driller, and is a NGWA certified Master Ground Water Contractor.


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