Laceyville Refocusing Efforts To End Community Water Woes
At a meeting last Thursday afternoon that brought two state lawmakers, four DEP officials, engineers, a well driller, members of the Laceyville Borough Council and others together to focus on the community’s water problems, the consensus at the close of the meeting was that the borough council should focus its efforts on improving an older, inactive well, which was generally seen as the least expensive of its options.
Tim Shotwell, a member of the Laceyville Borough Council who heads the borough water company, recapped the problems that date back three years when the borough’s only active well began to fail on Christmas Day in 2007. “For the last three years, people in the borough have not been able to wash their cars or wash their houses,” Shotwell said.
Although the borough has drilled a new well, it is not yet connected to the system and little if any real progress has been made. The borough has just a three-day supply of water in its reservoir should the existing well fail again. “We’ve come to a standstill and are trying to figure out the best steps to take,” Shotwell told the group gathered in the Laceyville Fire Hall. “Our backup well doesn’t supply enough water and the new well has plenty of water, but it tested poorly,” Shotwell said, adding that the high cost of treating water in the new well could be too expensive to make it a viable option.
Beyond that, Shotwell said the borough has “pretty much exhausted” places where another new well could be located, and a number of test wells that were evaluated with the assistance of geologist Jim Sposito, who was present at Thursday’s meeting, proved unsatisfactory.
Senator Lisa Baker asked how many people are connected to the system. Shotwell said there are 162 connections and, according to the last census, the population in the borough has dropped to around 400. He also said the borough supplies water to 19 residences, approximately 50 people, outside the borough limits in Braintrim Township. Water usage, Shotwell said, is pretty consistent at around 48,000 gallons per day.
Another concern of Shotwell’s is that wells on the Parys farm just outside the borough limits have been contaminated during gas well drilling. “I don’t mean to knock the natural gas drilling industry; we trust that they do things right, but we know there are wells within a fairly close proximity to ours that have been contaminated,” Shotwell said. While there have been no contamination problems with the borough’s well, Shotwell said what concerns him is that the contaminated well is “almost part of my water table.”
Baker said that she and Representative Major worked to get funding for the borough’s new well that was drilled near the Braintrim Baptist Church, but was found to be unsatisfactory. “It’s of great concern to me that we’ve gone to tremendous expense to drill a new well and then find that it’s not adequate. How do we find ourselves in this situation? How did that happen?”
DEP’s Dino Agustini said that whenever a new well is drilled, there are risks associated with it. “You never know what you’re going to get,” Agustini said. He said the borough’s new well proved to have high levels of chlorides, barium and solids. While the well water can be treated, Agustini said “it’s not the easiest thing to treat and not the most inexpensive thing to treat.”
Baker asked Agustini what led the borough to pick that particular site for it’s new well. “What role did you play in helping them decide to drill there?”
“We provided some guidance, but it’s generally up to them and their consultants to pick the location,” Agustini said.
Sposito said the geological formations in the Laceyville area are prone for bad water quality. “The elevated chlorides in the new well are indicative of the poor water quality we can expect from around here,” he added. “If you’re beyond 300 feet, the water quality really starts to go downhill.” He said the borough was faced with a couple problems: finding an adequate supply to meet its needs, which calls for deeper wells where volume is generally greater, but that increases the likelihood of poor quality.
Well driller Bill Karp said four test holes were bored before the well in question was drilled. He said the first three wells were on the uphill side of Route 6 and provided better quality but not sufficient quantity.
Mayor Ken Patton added that the new well tested satisfactory at first, but as it was pumped more, the quality apparently slipped.
Baker asked what it would take to treat this well. “What are you talking about?” she asked.
Agustini suggested treatments such as reverse osmosis or ultra filtration.
“How much would that run?” Baker asked.
“Well, it’s expensive,” Agustini replied. “It’s expensive to operate and you also have a waste product to dispose of. You only end up with one gallon of usable water out of every two gallons you treat.”
Agustini said finding enough water to meet a community’s needs is usually the biggest problem. “If you don’t have enough water, there is no point proceeding with a well. You can always treat the water once you find sufficient quantity.” As for Laceyville, Agustini said they have yet to determine whether it’s viable to treat the water in Laceyville’s new well, find another place to drill, or rehabilitate an older existing well so it would provide more volume.
Rep. Major asked whether the borough had already or is considering going beyond the borough limits to find water. Shotwell said the borough is very small and there weren’t many other places to drill. “We actually drilled a test well in a guy’s front yard on Second Street,” he added.
“That’s my point,” Major said. “The borough is absolutely limited about where you can go to find a source.” Shotwell agreed. Patton said the new production well the borough had hoped to use is located in his backyard.
Shotwell said exploratory wells were drilled outside the borough in Braintrim Township along where Route 367 heads toward Silvara. He said this would have involved obtaining easements to get the water back to the borough and the expense of laying a waterline. “It was a catch 22 in just about every direction we turned,” Shotwell said.
He also pointed out that the troubled new well is on the wrong side on Route 6, which means additional expense boring under the roadway to connect it to the water system. “We don’t have many good options,” Shotwell said.
Laceyville Councilman Richard Rodgers asked if a well could be drilled in Bradford County. “Do county lines play a role in this and why should they?” he asked. The consensus was that the county line would not serve as a barrier in providing water to the borough. Agustini said where the well might be located would not play a role in funding through PennVest.
Major said Bradford County might be in a different DEP region than Wyoming County but that also should not make a difference. “I’m sure they would coordinate to work through that,” Major said.
Summing up the discussion so far, Baker said the options included drilling another well or treating the substandard water in the new well. “Are there any other options?” she asked.
Shotwell suggested drilling the borough’s inactive backup well deeper. It’s only 150 feet deep and drilling deeper should increase volume, he said. Shotwell also suggested drilling another well adjacent to the inactive backup well, which he pointed out has high levels of barium. “One advantage,” Shotwell explained, “is all the water lines are nearby, reducing connection costs. I would just like to have the comfort at night knowing if the pump goes down I don’t have to scramble for the next three days trying to figure out what I’m going to do. I don’t want to go there again if I don’t have to.”
The rest of the meeting, which lasted for about an hour, involved discussing how the inactive well could be rehabilitated and brought into service. Agustini suggested that perhaps a number of wells could be blended into the system.
David Walters, an engineer with Larson Design of Williamsport, suggested dropping a video camera down the inactive well to examine it. “I’d suggest doing this before you go to the expense of trying to rehab it,” he said. Karp said lowering a camera into the well would not be difficult since there is no pump to get in the way.
Agustini said the well could have been over-pumped at one time causing some of the tributaries that supply it to collapse. “The fact that you had a good supply there at one time makes it at least worth taking a look.” He said the well could be treated with chemicals to improve flow.
Sen. Baker said she and Rep. Major would work to have the money left for the new well repurposed to cover the cost of rehabbing the old well.
Rodgers asked for a time line. “I hope we aren’t going to have to wait six months like we did last time,” Rodgers said.
“We’ll try to be very timely,” Baker said. She suggested the group reconvene in three weeks. “We’ll try to have a preliminary answer as soon as we can,” she said.
“We’ll follow up on this together,” Major added. “We want to get this resolved.”
Major said she had been under the assumption that Laceyville’s water problems were ending, but that was not the case.
“They were frustrated because they couldn’t get any answers,” Major said. “Now we’re going to move forward.”
In a letter issued the day after the meeting, Rodgers said more had been accomplished at the afternoon meeting than over many previous months. “We can now move forward with this project instead of circling the problem with no defined course of direction,” Rodgers said.