The proposed high-capacity well in Utica Township appears to be in a holding pattern, according to those familiar with the situation.
Dr. Darrell Long, a Lima, Ohio podiatrist, wants to drill the well on land he owns about five miles west of Mt. Sterling just off Highway 171.
The high-capacity well permit application has sparked controversy over the well’s potential impact on Copper Creek, a local trout stream. There is also concern about neighboring wells being negatively affected by a diminished water table.
As proposed in the initial permit application, the well could withdraw up to 500 gallons of water per minute with a maximum pumping rate of 500,000 gallons per day. The permit application indicated there would be an expected average daily pumping of 160,000 gallons.
In response to public comment, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Hydrogeologist Larry Lynch, who is responsible for the permit approval, added conditions to the potential permit. Those conditions are intended to address concerns that the well would have negative impact on groundwater levels.
The conditions included lowering the maximum daily rate of pumping to 250,000 gallons per day. It also restricted water hauling to a bulk container or tanker truck to no greater distance than 80 miles from the well without further specific approval of the DNR.
As the permit application currently stands, Long has agreed voluntarily to drill a test well. This well will allow the Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey an opportunity to confirm the geologic specifics of the site, before the actual high-capacity well is drilled.
Until the test well information is received, the permit application remains unapproved. There is potential for the well permit to be altered to either more or less stringent conditions, based upon the test well findings, according to Lynch.
Long believes the permit application process is being delayed because the test well has not been granted a drilling permit by the DNR.
However, a permit is not required for a test well and both Long and his driller have been informed that this is the case, according to Lynch at the DNR.
“He (Long) can do this any time. We requested notification so the Geological Survey can be scheduled, but it’s not part of the permit approval, per se,” Lynch explained.
Lynch’s last contact from either Long or the well driller was more than a month ago.
Long’s future plans for the water he’d pump from the high-capacity well appear to be changing. The original permit application specified that the intended use of the well was as “an emergency water supply,” which would include emergency water bottling. This use has not been amended.
“My neighbors have expressed they have no need for bulk water, so I have to look farther a field,” Long said.
Long confirmed that bottling of drinking water is now part of his plan, though bottling on his property is not a part of that plan at this time.
According to Long, he was approached by two individuals, who asked him about the possibility of bottling their water. He indicated that those who had approached him were not neighbors of the proposed well. He is not interested in bottling water for others.
“I want to use my land to sell water, bulk or drinking water, instead of (going) elsewhere,” Long said. “But most likely, I am not (going to be) bottling on my property. I could, but I am not sure I will do that. It’s not part of the plan right now.”
Long stressed that he could not possibly foresee withdrawing the full amount of water stated as the maximum possible in the well permit application—500,000 gallons per day.
The conditions applied by the DNR in June to the pending permit specify that the well “shall not be used as a water source for purposes including, but not limited to, commercial water bottling for ultimate retail sale.”
Long has stated that if it got too far into the cold season, drilling would have to wait until spring.
A criticism of the initial permit application, made by two independent hydrogeologists, was that it used spring seasonal groundwater flow data. The scientists took issue with the idea that the data collected in spring proved the well’s feasibility, because that’s when the water table is at it’s highest.
Both Dr. Robert Nauta and Dr. Timothy Ehlinger were critical of the analysis as insufficient and potentially faulty. Analysis by the DNR in the permit application was based on a single water level measurement taken in March.
Most water table measures in Wisconsin are only recorded once a year. However, two nearby monitoring locations are updated monthly, Fort McCoy and Richland Center. Both record their highest levels in April, with March showing a steep rise.
Richland Center groundwater levels were over a foot lower than the median norm for the area in August and September, but have since rebounded to normal conditions.
Fort McCoy, which is expected to have less seasonal fluctuation and thus more consistent water levels, went below average in July. Despite a slight upswing at the end of July, the groundwater level has continued to drop and is now between two to three feet lower than expected, based upon 59 years of accumulated monthly measurements.
The community group, Save Copper Creek, organized to challenge Long’s proposed well, is waiting to see what happens next.
“We’re really in a holding pattern right now,” Cynthia Olmstead of Save Copper Creek said in response to inquiries about the group’s plans once the test well is drilled. “Some of these (questions) really can’t be answered until we have more information from the DNR.”
It appears the immediate future of the high capacity well permit application now hinges upon a test well and the decisions of Dr. Darrell Long.