Quarries lowering water levels, study says
BY DAN SHINE
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
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
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
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
"We want there to be environmental assessment," Hammerstrom
said. "The whole package of bills looks at aquifer protection,
which is really needed."