Dairy neighbor concerned after her well goes dry 08.22.2007

Written by David Green. Posted in Feature Stories

By DAVID GREEN

Jon Ehrsam was the first person to notice the change about a year ago this month when the well at his house on State Route 120 went dry.

He figured it was time to lower the tip of the well deeper into the aquifer.

About a week and a half later, the people across the road, Jerry and Joan Tejkl, ran out of water.

The neighbors began comparing notes and Joan contacted the Fulton County Health Department. A representative there expressed concern, but the agency’s oversight over local water usage had been stripped in 2004 when legislators voted to turn authority over to the Ohio Department of Agriculture. The health department now acts only in an advisory role.

Another nearby neighbor, Melody Meek, never lost drinking water because she draws from a deeper aquifer, but she has a backup pump in the shallower water source. She noticed the water level had dropped significantly.

The group began wondering if the change might be related to the Chesterfield Dairy on Fulton County Road 14, less than a mile to the southwest. The dairy had been plagued by water problems from the start and initially resorted to bringing water by truck until productive wells were finally established.

“We didn’t want to jump to any conclusion,” Joan Tejkl said, “but there were no problems until the dairy started pumping.”

The change in water supply was dramatic at the Tejkl residence. The water level dropped about 15 feet during an 18-day period and finally went dry, she said.

She and her late husband, Jerry, visited the dairy owner, Karel Van de Kolk, to inquire about their water use. The pumping had stopped at the dairy, but nearly four months passed before Tejkl’s well returned to its previous level.

Tejkl hasn’t run out of water since last August, but when pumping started in again over the past summer, the water level dropped to two feet and she notified the Ohio DNR and Ohio Department of Agriculture. When the pumping came to a halt, the water level rose about a foot in the next 10 hours.

The well on her property has always been strong, Tejkl said. During a drought in the 1940s, her father-in-law had the only well that remained operable. When the well was once emptied for cleaning, the fire department was called to help pump it dry. That was an impossible chore. Every time they reached the bottom of the brick-lined well, they were soon standing in ankle-deep water.

Testing

Representatives from the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA), the Fulton County Health Department and Chesterfield Dairy met at the Tejkl home Friday morning to discuss conducting a test over the next five to six weeks. The effort would try to determine just how much water the dairy could withdraw without affecting neighbors.

The Dragun Corporation, an environmental engineering firm based in Farmington Hills, Mich., will draw up plans for the test and examine the data. The Fulton County Health Department also intends to be involved in the study.

Dragun is an associate member of the National Milk Producers Federation and is used by Vreba-Hoff Dairy Development for engineering needs. An employee of Vreba-Hoff will measure the water level at the Tejkl well and others in the area.

“I need to know this well is definitely connected,” said Chris Pare of Dragun.

Van de Kolk said at the meeting that he wants to withdraw water at a rate of 12 gallons a minute from the shallow aquifer, with the well at a depth of about 50 feet. He aims for 25 gallons a minute from a deeper well at 194 feet.

Bill Schwaderer of the ODA explained Tuesday morning that a 48-hour pump test was conducted March 13-14, 2007, but that test didn’t determine if the 12-gallon a minute rate could be sustained over time. The new test will address that question.

Pumping will be done at the farm and then area well depths will be measured. That prospect doesn’t sound comforting to Tejkl.

“The well hasn’t had a chance to recover from the previous drop and you’re asking to make it drop more?” she said after the visitors left.

Area resident David Blesing, who has helped Tejkl keep a log of well water levels, asked Pare at the meeting how an accurate assessment could be made when the well is so far short of full recovery. That question wasn’t answered.

Jon Ehrsam made it clear that he’s very supportive of the dairy and he’s also agreeable to having his well studied for the test.

Lyman Russell of Sand Creek, a private contractor who works for several dairies including Chesterfield, further explained the situation. He said the well in question isn’t the primary water source, but the main well—offsite from the farm—has been struck by lightning more than once. When that well is out of service, more water must be drawn from the other wells.

“Karel needs to be given credit for being proactive,” Russell said. “He’s very environmentally concerned. He has to be to make it all work.”

Van de Kolk stated Friday that he’s not pumping all the time from the well that’s affecting area residences and he told Tejkl that he doesn’t want to cause any problems.

Tejkl doesn’t brand herself as a dairy opponent, but Van de Kolk’s words ring hollow.

“I’ve got a problem now,” she said. “This isn’t about smells and flies. Those are not the issues. But why should it come to having to decide whether I can shower or flush the toilet or wash dishes?”

She says the DNR has told her they can’t regulate water usage because it’s a department of agriculture issue. The ag department tells her it’s a DNR issue.

“Everybody’s been passing the buck,” she said. “It’s been crazy.”

And to top it off, she’s been told by the DNR that the upcoming testing process needs to be completed in order to prepare for an expansion of the dairy herd this fall. If the dairy is challenged to find an adequate water source for the existing herd, she wonders how it’s going to handle an expansion.

The ODA’s Andy Ety said Tuesday that it’s the DNR’s role to provide assistance to concerned citizens, but he stopped short of saying the DNR would take action against the dairy. Within Ohio’s legal system, he said, neighbors would have to go to court to attempt halting the adverse affects from the dairy’s water withdrawal.

Tejkl said she’s been advised repeatedly by the agriculture department to dig a new well, but she questions why she should have to go that route when she’s used her well without a problem for so many years.

“This isn’t a matter of my water and their water,” she said. “It’s a matter of what’s right or wrong.”

    – Aug. 22, 2007
 

Correction:

Joan Tejkl later said that officials from the Fulton County Health Center and the Ohio DNR suggested that she dig a new well, not the Ohio Department of Agriculture. (Sept. 4, 2007)

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