In response to a 10-day pump test that withdrew perhaps five million gallons of groundwater and caused several wells to be drawn down or to go dry, the Town of Perry is seeking to enact a 180-day moratorium on any large-scale groundwater extraction. The ordinance would prohibit withdrawing more than 5,000 gallons a day during the moratorium. At a meeting on October 22, the Perry selectmen approved sending the moratorium ordinance out to voters at a special town meeting that will be held on Monday, November 4, at 7 p.m. at the Perry Elementary School.
Karen Raye, chairman of the selectmen, says the moratorium would allow for a time-out period during which the selectmen probably would appoint a committee to develop a groundwater ordinance. The moratorium article states that the pressure of large-scale groundwater extraction "was unanticipated and has not been adequately provided for in the town's Land Use Ordinance" and that the extraction "poses a serious harm to the public health, safety and welfare" of the town.
The Passamaquoddy Tribe had engaged Wright-Pierce Engineering to conduct the pump test, which had begun on September 19, in order to see if there would be enough water from an aquifer in Perry to serve as a new drinking water source for the Passamaquoddy Water District, which primarily serves Eastport and Pleasant Point. At the October 1 meeting of the Perry selectmen, several residents reported that the water drawdown had caused their wells either to go dry or to be lowered significantly. A number of nearby residents had not been notified that the test would be occurring.
Following that meeting, a separate issue arose during the weekend of October 12-13 concerning possible contamination of the wells that were in the area of the pump test, near the intersection of the Golding and South Meadow roads. Wright-Pierce had tested seven private wells before the pump test, with results indicating the presence of coliform bacteria.
Well contamination issue surfaces
At the October 15 selectmen's meeting, Raye outlined the sequence of events and communications that the selectmen have had concerning the issue. On October 12 the selectmen had emailed a letter to Marvin Cling, environmental director for the Passamaquoddy Tribe at Pleasant Point, outlining the stop work order issued by the town's code enforcement officer near the end of the 10-day pump tests. The letter noted that the issue was considered an open enforcement matter but that the tribe ceased pumping activities in "a reasonably prompt matter."
The letter continues, "The board also understands the Passamaquoddy Tribe is undertaking good faith efforts to work with residents and property owners that have issues with their domestic water supplies to mitigate any adverse effects those individuals have experienced; and conduct its own investigation to ensure the quantity and quality of water returns to substantially similar conditions that existed prior to the tribe's groundwater extraction activities."
Later on Saturday, October 12, Cling responded that he was able to provide some of the private well owners that were part of the monitoring their pre-test well water results, after receiving them on Thursday, October 10. The results showed that most wells are contaminated with coliform bacteria, he stated.
The next morning, on Sunday, October 13, the selectmen met and then hand delivered notices to residents on the Golding Road and the South Meadow Road in the area of the pump tests that stated that tests showed their wells were contaminated with coliform bacteria and recommending that property owners consider boiling their drinking water.
On Monday, October 14, the selectmen were in contact with officials with the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. In an email sent on October 15, Roger Crouse, director of the Maine Drinking Water Program, stated that, based on a review of the information, the program "does not find that a widespread total coliform contamination issue is likely to exist." Seven private wells were tested prior to the pumping test, and five indicated the presence of coliform bacteria. All tests reported the absence of E. coli. He noted that coliform bacteria are common throughout the environment and do not survive well in groundwater. The presence of E. coli, though, would indicate the fecal contamination has entered the groundwater and represents a public health risk. All of the samples were collected from outside faucets, and Crouse pointed out that collecting samples from outside faucets is generally discouraged when testing for bacteria, because the faucets often result in false positive test results from contamination found on the faucet's surface.
"They're not concerned it's a major issue," stated Raye at the October 15 selectmen's meeting. "We didn't intend to set off alarm bells," she added, concerning the selectmen's decision to notify residents of the test results. She noted that Wright-Pierce Engineering, which had conducted the pump test for the tribe, would be doing follow-up testing of the water, using inside faucets, on Thursday, October 17.
The follow-up tests were positive for coliform bacteria at five of the seven wells, with one well testing positive for E. coli. The tribal environmental health officer will assist the five residents with positive bacteria results to disinfect their wells and collect more samples to confirm that the wells are free of bacteria. The health officer also will work with the resident whose well tested positive for E. coli to disinfect the well. The resident has been advised to boil his water until the well is treated.
On the town's website the selectmen urge residents to have their wells tests on a regular basis. Information about certified laboratories and well water quality is also available through links on the website.
Notification process questioned
During the October 15 selectmen's meeting, Nancy Asante asked if anyone had informed the town about the 10-day pump test before it had begun. Raye said that three years ago Steve Crawford, who was then the tribe's environmental director, had told the board what the tribe was doing. Asante then commented that she felt it was "extremely irresponsible" that the tests had been conducted without informing the town.
Jay Pearson, who had been without water for 14 days because his well had gone dry, said his well had still not recovered to the level at which it had previously been. Concerning Wright-Pierce's tests for coliform bacteria, Tammy Pearson asked, "If they've done this testing so much, why did they do this wrong? Are they accurate in any of their tests?"
Noting the coliform bacteria tests had been conducted before the pump tests, which had begun on September 19, and that Perry selectmen were not informed about the coliform results until October 12, Bill Newcomb pointed out that there appeared to be about a three-week period during which people who should have been informed about the coliform bacteria test results had not been told anything.
Both Raye and selectmen Scott MacNichol urged residents not to confuse the two issues of the pump tests and the coliform bacteria tests. The water quality tests had been conducted before the pump tests, and the coliform bacteria test results were not related to the groundwater drawdown.
Doug Curry, the town's health officer, termed it "disquieting" that so much water had been pumped -- between 320 and 350 gallons a minute over 10 days -- and that the Pearsons were without water for 14 days and the town had not been notified about the tests. Raye noted that the tribe and Wright-Pierce "had never intended to adversely impact people."
Darrin Lary of Wright-Pierce has since informed the selectmen that Indian Health Services and the Environmental Protection Agency, which are funding the water test project, will cover the costs to repair the Pearsons' well.