Hearing set for Michindoh Aquifer status 11.18.2009

Written by David Green.

The EPA’s Region 5 office in Chicago is poised to approve Sole Source Aquifer (SSA) status for the Michindoh Aquifer that underlies both Morenci and Fayette.

The City of Bryan applied for SSA status to help raise awareness of drinking water quality and to help with future planning decisions.

“Clean water is something that’s usually taken for granted,” said Lou Pendleton of Bryan’s utilities department. “The main benefit of SSA is to take what we’ve learned about our aquifer and make others aware of the value.”

The EPA initially scheduled a comment period that ended last week, but it’s now been extended for an indefinite period. Pendleton expects the EPA to issue a final decision following a public hearing in January 2010.

The Safe Drinking Water Act gives EPA the authority to designate an aquifer as the sole source of drinking water for a designated area.

The Michindoh Aquifer includes all of Williams County and portions of Fulton and Defiance counties in Ohio; portions of Lenawee and Hillsdale counties in Michigan; and portions of Allen, DeKalb and Steuben counties in Indiana. The aquifer serves the drinking water needs of about 20 communities.

An aquifer could be equated to a large sponge of sand and gravel that holds vast amounts of underground water resources.

SSA status helps protect drinking water supplies in areas where few or no alternative sources are available. If contamination were to occur, developing an alternative source would be very expensive.

With EPA approval, the agency must review all federally funded projects in the area to determine the potential for contaminating the aquifer. In this area, Pendleton said, the Interstate highway is the only federal project. The placement of any additional exits, for example, would be reviewed in regard to impact on the aquifer.

SSA status should serve as a guide for future land use, Pendleton said. For example, a chemical plant should not be situated above an aquifer recharge area.

Two Ohio state laws are already in place to guard SSAs, she said. One covers the need for double-walled underground storage tanks and the other governs construction debris in landfills.

One enormous landfill above the aquifer is “grandfathered in,” but future expansion might be limited.

At a Michindoh meeting last year, a speaker from the U.S. Geological Service told how protective clay layers do not always prevent contaminants from reaching deep aquifers.

Another speaker stated that the SSA effort does not aim to discourage commercial growth, but instead to plan wisely.

• Comments should be addressed to William Spaulding, EPA Region 5 (WG-15J), 77 W. Jackson Blvd., Chicago, IL 60604.

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