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Great Lakes Article:

Quarries lowering water levels, study says
BY DAN SHINE
Detroit Free Press
03/25/2002

Monroe County residents said they knew all along why their wells were drying up. Now they have some proof.

A 10-year study by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and the U.S. Geological Survey shows that groundwater use by quarry operations doubled in the past decade and accounts for about 75 percent of all such use. The eight quarries in Monroe County dump about 20 million gallons of water out of the ground each day to dry up areas in order to remove limestone.

Since 1991, the state and federal agencies monitored levels in 31 wells in the county. The levels dropped in 24 of those wells.

The decline was at least 10 feet in 17 wells, and one well dropped 80 feet.

"It's nice to see an official study supporting what we've believed all along," said Christopher Lemon, 28, who lives in Maybee -- one mile north of a cement plant.

Sometimes declining well water levels can be blamed on drought conditions or a drop in Lake Erie or the River Raisin. But Flint Watt, chief of the DEQ's drinking water and radiological protection division, said while Lake Erie rose and fell the past 10 years, groundwater levels steadily declined.

Lemon and other residents wonder whether the quarries will ultimately be held responsible for wells drying up. The report says determining whether the quarries or the climate causes the problems is problematic because of a lack of conclusive data. But Watt said early indications are that much of the responsibility for declining well water levels is due to the quarries.

"We're going to do a long-term study to pin it down further to determine exactly what is happening," Watt said.

Mike Newman, managing director of the Michigan Aggregates Association, a trade organization that represents quarry and cement plant operators, said the report oversimplifies the problem and doesn't factor in the impact of business and residential growth in the county or drought-like conditions.

"That report simply stated some limited information that led people to make speculations," Newman said.

Many residents in the county who rely on well water have had to dig deeper to find water or drill new wells. Lemon said residents have drilled 200 feet down and not found water. Some have water trucked in and stored in large containers, Lemon said.

The report indicated that even well users miles away from a quarry are affected by large groundwater withdrawals.

A recent Senate special committee that studied Great Lakes issues recommended regulating groundwater use. There are no laws regulating the uses or withdrawal amounts, but a package of bills addressing the issue was recently introduced.

State Sen. Beverly Hammerstrom, R-Temperance, has introduced a bill that would apply the same requirements and regulations to quarry operations as the state does to other mining activities.

"We want there to be environmental assessment," Hammerstrom said. "The whole package of bills looks at aquifer protection, which is really needed."

 

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