Tuesday, October 10, 2000

Mason growth adds to strain on aquifer

By Kevin Aldridge
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        MASON — Rapid development in Ohio's second-fastest growing city is only partly to blame for the dwindling Shaker Creek Aquifer, according to a recent study by a Cincinnati environmental engineer.

        A draft report by Malcolm Pirnie Inc. says that increased pumping by Mason and other entities coupled with the drought is taxing one of the richest water sources in the state. Mason City Council hired the firm last November to develop a well-field management plan and perform a safe yield evaluation of the aquifer.

        The move came two months after the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) said Mason's residential boom was outpacing the aquifer's ability to recharge itself. ODNR had been receiving complaints from residents that domestic water supply wells were going dry in areas near Mason's well field.

        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.

        The aquifer's water level has dropped 27 feet in the past 30 years, 15 feet between 1973 and 1994, ac cording to the report. The report said 5 feet of the decline can be attributed to the effects of the drought, while 7 feet is the result of increased pumping by Mason.

        The report says, that “throughout the summer of 1999 the area near the Mason well field was considered to be in a severe to extreme drought.” It goes on to state that because of the drought, demand on the Mason well field was considerably higher (30 percent increase over 1998) than in previous years.

        Monroe, Lebanon, Lebanon Correctional Institute, Warren County and Otterbein-Lebanon Retirement Community rely on Shaker Creek Aquifer for water as well as Mason.

        “Everyone who draws from it contributes to the depletion of the aquifer,” said Mason Vice Mayor Jim Fox, who also sits on the city's Utilities Committee. “But a city that is growing like Mason is obviously going to attract the most attention.”

        The report by Malcolm Pirnie revealed Shaker Creek aquifer was given some relief when Mason decreased its draw by pur chasing 5 million gallons of water a day from the Cincinnati Water Works. So instead of pumping 4.35 million gallons a day from the aquifer, the city now takes about 1.9 million — a reduction of more than 50 percent.

        “I think we've taken a leadership role in helping to preserve this precious water source,” Mayor John McCurley said.

        The report concludes that Mason and other entities using the aquifer should form a cooperative group to establish a water budget. This budget would determine how much water flows into the aquifer, where it comes from, how much each entity draws and what the safe yield is over a period of time.

        Mr. Fox said Mason and other users may even need to consider changing to an alternative water source.

        “Changing to Cincinnati (water) buys us time to find yet another source for water in the future and also gives the aquifer time to recharge to previous levels,” he said. “It makes sense for all of us to get together to determine what the best course of action is for preserving this source because we're all in the same boat.”


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