Tag: aquifer

Michigan’s Ottawa County has a Groundwater Conundrum

By Bob Otwell

In the Great Lakes state, we think of water as abundant, if not inexhaustible. Not far from Grand Rapids and Muskegon, Ottawa County is bordered on the west by the bulging waters of an engorged Lake Michigan. However, over the past 30 years, increasing use of groundwater is causing water shortages and increasing pollution within the groundwater supply.

In terms of population, Ottawa County is the fastest growing county in the state. Grand Haven is in the northwest corner and Holland is in the southwest corner of the county, and Grand Rapids sits just to the east in Kent County. Ottawa County has four sources for its water supply; Lake Michigan, inland lakes, a glacial drift aquifer, and a deeper bedrock aquifer. Most of the population receives drinking water from public water systems supplied by Lake Michigan, while the major groundwater users are irrigated farms and rural homeowners.

Michigan State University (MSU) completed two comprehensive Ottawa County groundwater reports between 2011 and 2016. The reports tabulated groundwater use, and defined geology and hydrology for the county and the region. The chart below from the MSU studies shows a sharp increase in water use starting in about 1990, led by increases in irrigation (IRR), followed by domestic wells (DOM), with smaller uses by industry and public groundwater systems. Total water use quadrupled between 1990 and 2015.

The MSU reports found that the primary issue for groundwater supply is that the bedrock aquifer water levels have declined by as much as 45 feet. This means that more groundwater is being taken out of the aquifer than is being recharged by rainfall. This lowering of groundwater levels has caused a change in flow patterns within the bedrock aquifer, resulting in increased salinity and higher chloride levels. Eight percent of samples are now above the Secondary Drinking Water Standards for chloride of 250 milligrams per liter (mg/L), which are designed to protect against taste, odor and color impacts. Many more are at levels harmful to agricultural irrigation, which can be as low as 70 mg/L. Background chloride concentrations in Michigan are typically 10-30 mg/L. The following chart from MSU studies shows increasing chloride levels since around 1995.

The bedrock aquifer, part of the Marshall sandstone formation, is an old seabed, and in some places has salinity levels higher than the ocean. Historic freshwater recharge has diluted these levels to create potable water, but the increased pumping has changed the flow regime. This groundwater conundrum is not confined to Ottawa County. Intensive groundwater pumping in other Michigan counties in the Saginaw Bay area and southeast Michigan has caused similar situations of increasing salinity.

So, what should be done about these situations? How can we live in a state with what seems like so much available water and yet have water shortages? Steps are being taken to reduce future use of the bedrock aquifer in Ottawa County. Allendale Township bans new housing developments from using groundwater. Ottawa County has prepared a groundwater sustainability plan to influence future groundwater use. The plan hopes to balance economic growth and preserve the groundwater resource. Groundwater level and quality monitoring are an important part of the plan, along with closer monitoring of water use.

But how long do we watch as degradation to the aquifer occurs before more decisive action takes place? Methodically switching irrigation supply and rural homes from the bedrock aquifer to a Lake Michigan source could permanently halt this degradation. Lack of action could harm the aquifer for future generations.

FLOW board member Bob Otwell is a hydrologist and founder of Otwell & Mawby

Recognizing Our Symbiotic Relationship with Groundwater

Groundwater system painting by Glenn Wolff

Over half the U.S. population, including 99 percent of the rural population, relies on groundwater for its drinking water supply. In Michigan, 45 percent of the population has a drinking water supply of groundwater. Groundwater is also used in crop irrigation and industrial processes. But many citizens are generally unaware of the nature and critical importance of groundwater.

Groundwater is water found underground in cracks and spaces in soil, sand, and rock. These underground stores of water are called aquifers. Aquifers consist of permeable materials like gravel, sand, sandstone, or fractured rock, like limestone, that allow water to flow through. Groundwater can be found almost anywhere: the area where water fills the aquifer is called the saturation zone, and the top of the saturation zone is referred to as the water table. The water table may be located a foot below the ground’s surface, or it can be hundreds of feet down.

Groundwater can be extracted from aquifers naturally or artificially. Springs naturally bring groundwater to the surface and discharge it into lakes and streams (surface water bodies). Wells drilled into the aquifer can also pump groundwater to the surface.

Groundwater supplies are recharged or replenished by rain and snow melt. There can be shortages if groundwater supplies are used up faster than they are naturally recharged, or if supplies are polluted by human activities.

Groundwater is critically important to daily living. Of all the Earth’s water that is usable by humans, 98 percent is groundwater. A 2005 U.S. Geological Survey found that groundwater is used for 37 percent of agricultural water use, primarily in irrigation. Consider the fact that Americans, collectively, drink more than one billion gallons of tap water every day, and that 40 percent of the world’s food supply is grown on irrigated cropland, and the crucial importance of clean groundwater becomes clear.

Most people do not realize the impact they can have on groundwater. Anything poured or spilled onto the ground’s surface can end up in the groundwater supply, even years later, and contaminated groundwater can ruin human and animal health. Overuse can lead to shortages in the water supply. The average American uses 100 gallons of water every day. If the rate of use exceeds the rate of natural recharge, a shortage may occur. With the level of public and industrial dependence on groundwater, such a shortage could be devastating.

Every individual has a responsibility to protect groundwater, because every individual is impacted daily by the quality and quantity available.

How to Protect Your Groundwater

Test your well

If your drinking water comes from a private well, have the water tested. Spring is a great time to test well water, particularly for health-related concerns like bacteria and nitrate. Check out this fact sheet on water well testing by the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE).

Properly fill and seal an unused well on your property

Wells that are no longer in use represent a direct conduit for pollutants to contaminate the groundwater aquifer. If you have an unused well on your property, take steps to ensure that it is abandoned properly and will not contaminate groundwater in the future. Here is information you need to know from EGLE.

Take steps to reduce your water use

About 45% of Michigan residents rely on groundwater as their primary water supply. Reducing water use conserves groundwater, since most groundwater used in homes is discharged to lakes and streams and not returned to the aquifer. Some quick and easy solutions to reduce your water use include buying more efficient appliances, faucets, and toilets. Planting less water-intensive landscaping and using rain barrels to collect rainfall for watering the garden can also help to conserve groundwater. Often times, reducing water use results in lower water bills and energy savings as well. Read more here.

Do a spring cleaning of hazardous materials around your home

Old motor oil, unused or old paint/varnish or other cleaning products often build up in and around our homes. Take an opportunity during this week to do a spring cleaning of hazardous materials so that they do not end up contaminating groundwater or surface waters. Dispose of them properly — that means not down the storm sewer, and not down your septic system either.

Learn about water quality for your community water supply

Many “city” water supplies in Michigan use groundwater. About 12,000 public wells service 1.7 million citizens. Contact your local water utility and ask them for the most recent water quality data or learn about how your community’s water supply is protected.

Fracking suspected cause of residential water well failure in Kalkaska County

Click here to view the press release as a PDF

Fracking suspected cause of residential water well failure in Kalkaska County

As Encana’s fracking operation continued in Rapid River Township, local residents losing water pressure. Water coming out of the tap looks like milk.

For Immediate Release
June 11, 2013
Kalkaska, Michigan

Last week, fracking operations at the Westerman 1-29 HD1 continued, despite ongoing issues with the water supply on the pad. The additional water wells installed on and off the well pad failed to yield sufficient volumes to complete the well and Encana continued to obtain water from the Kalkaska Village municipal system until Saturday, June 8, 2013, when the gas well was finally completed.

At some point mid-week, Bernard and Phyllis Senske, who live adjacent to the well site, started experiencing a drop in water pressure and discolored water. “It looks like milk coming out of the faucet”, said Mrs. Senske.

In response to her distress, the Anglers of the AuSable, a group dedicated to protection of Au Sable and other Michigan trout streams, engaged Dr. Chris Grobbel, of Grobbel Environmental & Planning Associates to inspect the well and sample the water.

His initial report found that “The static water level within the Senske well has been lowered by 11 feet. Homeowners Senske’s reported that this problem is coincident with the nearby fracking operation which is also reportedly experiencing difficulties pumping groundwater to supply on-site fracking operation.” The full report is at the end of this news release.

This is not the first fracking operation to experience issues with insufficient water. Attempts to complete the Yonkman 1-29HD1 well in Missaukee County between December of 2012 and February of this year were unsuccessful, despite construction of 8 water wells in an effort to do so. Devon Energy approached nearby municipalities for water, and the City of McBain acquiesced-for $34,000.00. However, MEQ records illustrate that the Yonkman well was never completed.

Similar issues were also experienced at the State Richfield 1-27 well in Roscommon County, where four water wells failed to provide the quantity of water required to frack the well (4.8 million gallons), and two additional wells were required.

Dr. Grobbel recommends a pump aquifer yield test be performed to determine whether an aquifer can safely supply the volume of water required for any large quantity water withdrawal, so that adverse impact to groundwater can be properly assessed and avoided.

This is an ongoing story and updates will be forthcoming as developments occur.

Report of Dr.Chris Grobbel, of Grobbel Environmental & Planning Associates:

Please find this summary of my 6/7/13 site visit to the home of Bernard and Phyllis Senske 632 Wood Rd, Rapid River Township, Kalkaska County. The Senske property is along the north side of Wood Rd, in close proximity to and northeast of Chevron’s Westerman 1-32 HD-1 deep horizontal, hydraulically fractured natural gas well – currently being fracked by Halliburton.

The Senskes’ reported and I observed the diminishment of flow, once turned on, from a hydrant at their
residential well north of their home. Using an electronic static water level meter, I determined the depth of the well at 175 feet below ground surface (bgs), static water level at 129 feet bgs, giving them a total of 46 feet of water within their well. According to records from submersible well pump replacement in August 10, 2010 indicated the well had a static water level at 118 feet bgs (i.e. 57 feet of water within the well), and that the pump was set at 133 feet bgs (i.e. 15 feet into the aquifer). Under the conditions I observed on 6/7/13, the submersible pump would be a mere 4 feet into the aquifer and is running periodically dry through drawdown when run. Turning the well off, the water table seems to recover relatively quickly to 129 feet bgs.

Consequently, the water well system is drawing air and water and slugs of air were observed by myself at the
hydrant and at a tap within the Senske home. The cloudy water observed from the tap is likely air saturation within drinking water, and the clearing of drawn water was observed after a few seconds as very fine air bubbles volatilized. It was also noted that a small amount of white scale was present in drinking water within the Senske home, likely calcium deposits/scale being loosened and flushed through the home’s plumbing from the air “shocking” of the system from drawing air. Neither condition are judged to represent health concern for the home owners.

However, to ensure the Senske’s water was not tainted, I developed the well by running it for 15 minutes and analyzed the head space of water sample collected within a sterile lab jar with a photo-ionization unit (PID). PID readings were non-detect, and I did not detect odors of any sort. Samples were collected within 40 ml VOAs per MDEQ protocols for drinking water, and were submitted to a MDEQ licensed lab in Traverse City for analysis for BTEX (benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene isomers US EPA Method 8020) – a common indicator of petroleum constituents. I expect results during the week of June 17th.

In short it appears that the static water level within the Senske well has been lowered by 11 feet. Homeowners Senske’s reported that this problem is coincident with the nearby fracking operation which is also reportedly experiencing difficulties pumping groundwater to supply on-site fracking operations. The Senske’s are longterm occupants of this home, Mrs. Senske having been born there about 80 years ago and moved back decades ago. Both Mr. and Mrs. Senske reported that no problems have existed within water quality or quantity in this water well, which installed approximately in the early 1990s and used of potable water and irrigation on their farmstead. The only obvious change in the vicinity is the nearby horizontal fracking operation.

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Submitted by FARWatershed.com and respectmyplanet.org.

Contact: Jacque Rose, FARWatershed@gmail.com517-410-8959

Fracking creating major water consumption issues near Kalkaska

Click here to view the press release as a PDF

Fracking creating major water consumption issues near Kalkaska

Unable to get 8.4 million gallons of water at site, Encana forced to buy water from Kalkaska, Mancelona city systems

For Immediate Release
June 4, 2013
Kalkaska, Michigan

Concerns about the impact to local groundwater by massive water use- on a scale never before seen in Michigan fracking operations- are coming to a head, as Encana Oil and Gas’s plan to use 8.4 million gallons of water to fracture a single well has been stymied by a lack of water on site.

Instead, the company is trucking water – nearly 1 million gallons of it in just one week – from the City of Kalkaska’s water system to meet its needs. This one fracking operation today is using more water than the Village of Kalkaska is using for all its needs over the same time period.

The Westerman 1-29 HD1 gas/oil well, located on Wood Road in Rapid River Township, Kalkaska County, originally permitted to Chevron Michigan, LLC is now being operated by Encana Oil & Gas (USA), Inc.

Westerman Well, Kalkaska, MI

 The permit issued by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality authorized one water well on the site. The estimated water required for the gas/oil well was 8.4 million gallons. (That compares to about 10,000 gallons used to complete or “stimulate” wells in the traditional way – a massive increase in consumptive water use by the fracking industry compared to the past.)

The Michigan Water Withdrawal Assessment Tool (WWAT) estimated that 900 gallons per minute could be removed safely from the site and would cause no adverse resource impact. As it turns out, there isn’t enough water available on the site to provide 900 gallons per minute, let alone be safely removed.

An additional eight water wells were drilled on the site but apparently they did not produce either. Starting on May 31, 2013 water began being removed from the Kalkaska municipal water system to frack the gas/oil well.

The municipal withdrawal did not come close to supplying the water necessary to complete the Westerman well, so on Saturday, another water well was drilled off the site in the surrounding field.

westerman story photo 3

That water well also failed to produce sufficient water and trucks running around the clock continued to haul over 900,000 gallons of water from the Kalkaska municipal system over the weekend. At last report on June 4, 2013 the water was still being trucked to the well site from the municipal water supply.

Local resident and leading contributor of respectmyplanet.org, Paul Brady, states “If the citizens of Michigan knew corporations were destroying hundreds of millions of gallons of Michigan water – water that is supposedly protected by government for use by all of us – they would be opposing this new kind of completion technique. These deep shale unconventional wells are using massive amounts of water without adequate testing and solid data on aquifer capacity.”

Brady noted that the new fracking methods permanently remove water from Michigan’s watersheds. It is polluted with chemicals, shoved deep into the ground, and never returned to the water cycle. Encana has stated in shareholder presentations that up to 500 wells are planned for Michigan. Five new wells were permitted in Excelsior Township last week that estimate using 152,000,000 gallons of water. Eight more permit applications are pending.

The water use for these types of wells in Michigan is unprecedented: there is no gas or oil play in the entire USA that is using this much water per well.

The Michigan DEQ has taken some steps recently to try and deal with the astounding amounts of water destroyed by modern fracturing. But as of today, the primary tools that they are using to determine adverse impact to our water are inadequate to even judge how much water is available in any given location (as demonstrated by the Rapid River well situation), never mind how much can be safely removed. Michigan has no groundwater maps of this area; state officials don’t know how much water withdrawal our aquifers in Kalkaska County can support.

There is a way to find this out: do a pump aquifer yield test. State officials should require this testing whenever withdrawals of this magnitude are proposed for any reason, not just oil and gas exploration.

“This is not about the gas and oil industry”, says Brady. “We wholeheartedly support the Michigan oil and gas worker: they are our neighbors, family and friends here in Kalkaska. We are confident local oil and gas workers value the water as much as we do.”

Elected officials often remind us that water is by far our most precious resource. They need to step in and ensure that such massive quantities are not misused in this manner, and that unsustainable well drilling is not allowed.

This in an ongoing story and there will be additional installments forwarded as developments occur.

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Submitted by FARWatershed.com and respectmyplanet.org. All photos credited to respectmyplanet.org

Contact: Jacque Rose, FARWatershed@gmail.com517-410-8959