Thursday, June 22, 2000

Mason's water source still low

Aquifer needs plenty of rain to replenish

By Kevin Aldridge
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        MASON — Recent rainstorms are providing some relief for the Shaker Creek aquifer, which is still showing the effects of last summer's drought and overpumping by the city of Mason.

        Water levels have risen by about 17 feet over the same time last year, according to data recently gathered by the city. The aquifer, a primary source for Mason's water, has been in decline for decades and at one point last summer dipped 47 feet below the surface. Today the water level is at about 30 feet.

        “That's the highest it's been since sometime in 1998,” said Mason Utilities Superintendent Ernie Stickler. “The water level right now is what we would consider to be our normal level.”

        That's good news for Ohio's second-fastest growing city, which has taken most of the blame for the dwindling aquifer that also serves Monroe, Lebanon, Lebanon Correctional Institute, Warren County and Otterbein-Lebanon Retirement Community. Warren County commissioners even asked Mason officials earlier this year to decrease the city's draw from the aquifer until it replenishes itself.

        Mason has reduced its reliance on the aquifer thanks to a deal with Cincinnati Water Works that provides the city with an additional 5 million gallons of water a day. So instead of drawing 6 mil lion gallons a day from the aquifer, the city now takes just over 1.5 million.

        “We'd like to take credit for the aquifer's recovery, but the primary replenisher is rainfall,” said City Manager Scot Lahrmer. “It just so happens that the rising water levels coincided with our decreased use of the aquifer.”

        Most of Greater Cincinnati is at or a little above normal for rainfall this year, but environmentalists say there hasn't been enough rain to fully recharge ground water supplies. From January through May, Warren County has received 22.59 inches of rain — about 4.5 inches above normal.

        “Even with all the rain we are still seeing below-normal ground water levels,” said Jim Raab, a hydrogeologist with the Ohio De partment of Natural Resources Groundwater Division. “In April, all of the index wells were below normal by a half foot to 2 feet.”

        According to the Palmer Drought Severity Index, which measures the relative dryness or wetness of a given area, much of Southwest Ohio remains in moderate drought status. Mr. Raab estimates the area needs about 4.4 inches of rain to end the drought.

        “When that precipitation falls and how fast it falls is the key,” he said.

        For Robert and Betty Buffenbarger, the rain can't fall fast enough. The Buffenbargers, who have lived north of Mason on Hamilton Road in Lebanon for 47 years, have an 80-foot well on their property that taps into the Shaker Creek aquifer.

        Mrs. Buffenbarger said water from that well was plentiful until last summer. Now, because of Mason's residential growth and the drought, they've had to abandon the well and tap into nearby county water lines, she said. She uses water from the well now only to do gardening.

        “We have noticed that the water line has come up some recently, but we expect it to go back down as the summer goes on and the weather gets drier,” said Mrs. Buffenbarger.

        Mason officials said there are still certain parts of the aquifer where water levels are lower than in Mason. Mason City Council hopes to learn more about the overall status of the aquifer from a study it commissioned in November. City leaders expect the study to be completed early next month.


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