Wednesday, November 24, 1999

Mason will check draw on aquifer

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        MASON — Leaders here say the city will conduct a study to determine the amount of water that can safely be withdrawn from the Shaker Creek Buried Valley Aquifer without depleting it.

        City Council on Monday unanimously approved a $46,000 contract with Malcolm Pirnie Inc. to develop a well-field management plan and perform a safe yield evaluation of the aquifer. The move comes two months after the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) blamed the state's second-fastest-growing city for draining the rich ground water source.

        “I think this just goes to show that the city puts its money where its mouth is,” said Councilman John McCurley. “We are making this investment to ensure that our water supply is safe and secure. We are taking care of our responsibility and taking care of the aquifer.”

        An aquifer is an underground formation of sand, gravel and rock in which water fills the empty spaces and is preserved. Aquifers depend on precipitation to replenish them.

        A draft report by ODNR in September showed the water level of the aquifer had been declining since the 1970s and pointed to Mason's 264 percent jump in water use as the primary reason.

        ODNR began an investigation in August after several people in neighboring Lebanon complained that their wells were being sucked dry because of Mason's overconsumption — not because of the drought, as Mason officials had suggested.

        Hydrogeologists with ODNR's division of water said the aquifer's water table had dropped 27 feet since 1970 and 11.5 feet since 1990. They said Mason's increased use had placed a tremendous strain on the aquifer's ability to recharge itself.

        As a result of the study ODNR recommended the city contract with a consultant to determine how growth is affecting the ground water source and what is the aquifer's safe long-term yield.

        “This is going to be a very comprehensive study,” said Councilman Jim Fox, who also sits on Mason's utility commission. “We want to know what the addition of Cincinnati's water to the city and normal yields of rain will do to replenish the aquifer. The study could tell us that we need to look elsewhere” for a water source.

        The environmental engineering firm will use a two-phased approach to the study.

        Phase one will evaluate the aquifer. The firm will be responsible for compiling a final report that includes estimates of the sustainable yield of the aquifer and recommendations on reducing the effect of declining water levels. Malcolm Pirnie also will make recommendations concerning existing wells and any need to install wells in the future.

        The second phase will deal with developing a program to ensure the proper operation and maintenance of the city's well field.

        “Now is the time when we really need to scrutinize the use of our water,” said Councilman Tom Muennich. ""We need to protect our aquifer.”

        Mason's population has risen from 11,450 in 1990 to an estimated 18,850 in 1998. City engineers project Mason will have granted permits for at least 600 new homes by year's end, indicating that strong growth will continue.

        City officials say a $5 million deal with Cincinnati Water Works will increase the city's water system capacity to 12 million gallons per day and decrease its reliance on the aquifer. The additional water supply, available next year, is expected to satisfy the city's needs until 2010.


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