A 10-day pumping test late last month to see if there would be enough water from an aquifer in Perry to serve as a new drinking water source for Eastport and Pleasant Point upset some Perry residents whose wells went dry. The Passamaquoddy Tribe has been exploring for the past two years the possibility of using groundwater to replace Boyden's Lake as the primary source for the Passamaquoddy Water District (PWD), since the lake water has high levels of turbidity and requires expensive treatment.
At the October 1 meeting of the Perry Board of Selectmen, several residents expressed their concerns about the well test. Jay and Tammy Pearson thought they were having well troubles at their South Meadow Road home, as their 65-foot well suddenly began losing pressure towards the end of September. They replaced various parts to the tune of $1,200. But still they were no better. A week later the well had gone dry. Fearing that they needed a new and deep drilled well they called in the well drilling firm of Lawrence Lord & Sons to discuss the situation. That's when the Pearsons learned that their well was dry most likely because of the water testing project that was pumping extraordinary amounts of water around the clock for 10 days. "We're $1,200 in the hole because nobody told us that tests were occurring."
The Pearsons were among the 25 people who attended the meeting to discuss the project, which was conducted by Wright‑Pierce Engineering for the tribe. The project is funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) through a grant to Indian Health Services. The approximately $100,000 project began in 2011 and has focused on a bedrock aquifer in the area of the South Meadow and Golding roads on land owned by the tribe.
According to Marvin Cling, environmental director for the Passamaquoddy Tribe at Pleasant Point, the tribe is exploring a source of "better public drinking water. Right now the Passamaquoddy Water District has difficulty in delivering good quality." Wright‑Pierce Senior Vice President Jeffrey Musich explained that bedrock water is usually of better quality than lake water and less costly to treat. Cling stated, "There's no formal development yet" of a well project, only the testing.
The pumping test conducted from September 19 to September 29 utilized three wells that were 300 feet deep and monitored seven private wells and four bedrock wells as well as an additional six wells. The results indicated that two private wells were affected.
One audience member pointed out, "You're ignoring the shallow wells. It's flawed data." Another noted that many of the older homes in the area use shallow wells dug many years ago.
Musich replied, "We thought we had enough points around" the test site to monitor the effects of the pumping. He added, "We should have done a better job" of notifying people of the testing. He noted that wells that did show signs of an impact should come back over the 10‑day "recovery period" that started once the pump test concluded on the morning of September 29. Both he and Project Manager Darrin Lary added well sites to their list to be monitored during the recovery period. In response to questions about what kind of drawdown would occur to the aquifer if a well were installed at the site, Musich explained that, rather than running 24 hours a day, the pump would run six to 10 hours a day.
Chair Karen Raye explained that the selectmen had a two‑fold role: to consider a potential enforcement decision and a future land use issue. "It's a fact-finding meeting," she said. "That's why we particularly wanted to find out who was impacted" by the testing. "No decisions have been made, and we will be consulting with legal counsel." She turned to Musich and Lary and said, "How do you plan to deal with the issues that have been brought forward?"
In addition to the Pearsons, Bob Humphries and Herbie McPhail said that they had noticed issues with their shallow wells. McPhail, a dairy farmer, noted that the water in his 80-foot well was down to 20 feet. "I used to be able to put my hand down and touch it [the water]." Other residents pointed out that because landowners in the area had not been notified about the testing, they might not have realized that any problems with their wells could have been caused by the pumping test and therefore might not have contacted Wright‑Pierce and the selectmen.
Lary said, "We apologize for not notifying. It was not our thought to leave people out." Musich turned to the Pearsons and encouraged them to send an invoice of costs incurred. In the meantime, Wright‑Pierce has already made sure that the Pearsons have a temporary 300-gallon tank of water delivered to their house for non‑potable uses. "Nothing like flushing the toilet after 10 days to make you appreciate what you have," Jay Pearson said later with a smile.
For next steps in the water well project, Musich says that the test area and the impacts measured in the different wells will be used to create a map that will be available to the public. The test "pumped very hard," he noted. "The purpose was to find who it was impacting and whether it would draw in salt water. We use it to determine whether a permanent water supply could be placed there."
For the time being the selectmen are asking that anyone who has or had an issue that seems to have started during the well pump test period should contact Darrin Lary, Wright‑Pierce, at 725‑8721. The Perry selectmen would also like to be notified of any issues that residents notice.
Meeting PWD demand still unclear
Musich notes in an interview that they do not yet know if the groundwater source can meet the PWD demand. A report that will be prepared within a couple of months will show whether the wells can sustainably supply the amount needed by the PWD, with the recharge rate sufficient so that the aquifer will not become drawn down. At the start of the test period the wells were pumping 350 gallons a minute, but it was determined that the rate needed to be reduced. At the 320-gallon-a-minute rate at which the test finished, the levels in nearby wells were not dropping significantly, Cling says in an interview. "We were trying to see the volume that can be pumped and find the sustained level at which the recharge rate keeps up." While the shallow wells that lost water will have to be addressed, he says deeper wells were not affected during the 10-day test.
During 2012, the PWD pumped an average of about 345,000 gallons per day, with a maximum demand of 452,000 gallons. During the summer, the water district usually pumps 350 gallons a minute. However, Musich observes that the PWD has to spill water at the treatment plant, which would not have to be done at a groundwater source. And Cling notes that the water district has two standpipes that have a storage capacity of 712,000 gallons, which he believes could be used to help meet periods of higher demand. A mixer in the standpipes would improve the quality of the stored water, so they could be filled to capacity, he believes. If the wells are used by the PWD, Cling says that the treatment plant that uses lake water would continue to serve as a backup water source, in case the wells become overdrawn during a draught or are shut down for maintenance.
"There may have to be continuous monitoring around the production well," Cling says, and he expects that Perry would enact a groundwater ordinance that would limit the use of well water and ensure that nearby wells did not go dry. He says the tribe would have to prohibit residential development in the area of the wells to protect the groundwater source.
While initially it was believed a new water supply would provide a cost savings, Cling says current estimates are that the cost for using the groundwater source would be nearly the same as using the lake water. "But the difference is it's better drinking water." The water would still need to be filtered but the amount of chlorine used might be less.
Musich says that, two years ago, a three-day test of the quality of the water from the wells showed one well had some arsenic, but the amounts were below the 10 milligrams/liter allowable level. The water is a little harder than the lake water, but there was no indication of any salt water. It's unclear if the water would need to be treated. He notes that disinfection for bacteria is not usually needed for groundwater.
Cling hopes that by the end of October Indian Health Services will present options to the tribal council. The tribe would then approach the PWD and Eastport and Perry about the proposal. "We want to work with the PWD," he says. "Hopefully this will not be seen as a political matter. The tribe wants to be a partner in this." However, he expects there would be negotiations for a rate reduction on how much the tribe pays for water, since it put together the project for developing the new water source.
Nancy Seeley, superintendent of the PWD, says the district would be willing to discuss with the tribe the possibility of using wells instead of Boyden's Lake as its source of water. The lake water is difficult to treat, because of the color and turbidity issues, but she notes that the PWD has received $543,500 in funding to upgrade its treatment plant. That project is expected to begin in November.
"If they come up with a good yield and good quality that's not expensive to treat," she's sure the board would discuss the possibility with the tribe.
"Both communities would have to be satisfied," she says, referring to Pleasant Point and Eastport. She notes that James Borne of the EPA has told her that the federal agency would not provide funding for a separate water district that would hurt an existing district.