Clarke May Extend 6-year Groundwater Study - Winchester Star

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Primary (E-Com) Contact:Stephanie Mangino
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Clarke may extend 6-year groundwater study - Tuesday, January 8, 2008
By Stephanie Mangino
The Winchester Star (1/8/08)
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Berryville — Clarke County’s six-year groundwater study with the U.S. Geological Survey is winding down, but the county’s supervisors are considering working with the USGS for another year.

Representatives from the USGS on Monday presented the Board of Supervisors with some of the information that will likely appear in a September draft of the data collected during the study period.

David Nelms, USGS district groundwater specialist and the project chief for studies in both Clarke and Warren counties, said after the supervisors’ work session that such data is important in understanding upcoming droughts.

In Clarke, that information could be particularly meaningful right now. The county is currently seeing its lowest groundwater levels since the 1998-2002 drought, Nelms said. Clarke is now in its critical January-March groundwater recharge period, and significant precipitation is needed, he said. According to Alison Teetor, the county’s natural resource planner, Clarke’s groundwater levels need to rise about 20 inches to hit a normal level.

Over the winter, snow — which stays on the ground and melts slowly over the course of several days —is the optimal precipitation to replenish groundwater supplies, Nelms said.

Data of the sort collected during the last six years help give the county a better idea of potential upcoming drought conditions. "It’s like an early warning system," Nelms said.

The study has cost the county about $100,000 for each of the six years in which it has been conducted, Teetor said. The USGS contributed the funds for another third of the cost, she added.

The information shown to the supervisors included data about the county’s hydrogeologic framework, groundwater flow system, water budget, and water quality. Nelms admitted the information being absorbed by the supervisors is "very, very complicated stuff." During the meeting, board Vice Chairman Michael Hobert asked how the data can become actionable information, as in what it can really mean to the community.

Nelms said questions about the data can always be asked. Ultimately, that’s the direction in which the supervisors decided to go.

Board Chairman John Staelin directed Teetor to compile a list of questions for the USGS, ask the survey’s representatives if answers would be possible, and then have the supervisors look at those answers and determine the areas in which they would like to see the USGS focus in the future.

The USGS can provide different ranges and values from the data it collects, Nelms said. For example, if a county chose a high recharge number to use for planning decisions, the USGS could point out where doing so could be problematic, because it would not take dry times into account.

We provide data "and our interpretation of that data," he said. The county, however, would be the entity to enact policy from the data provided. If the county signs up for another year, the cost would continue to be about $100,000, Teetor said. She said the current study and future ones can provide data that could be used in myriad ways.

In a memo she wrote to the board, some of those ideas included assessment of changes related to increased groundwater withdrawals, development of "stormwater management ordinances that provide groundwater recharge for sustainable water supplies," and development of well regulations calling for "minimum depth, yield, and pump depth requirements."

Nelms said it says quite a lot about the county’s residents and Board of Supervisors that its groundwater is even being studied. "Groundwater is a big deal in this part of the state," he said.

Also on Monday, both Staelin and Hobert were re-elected to their respective chairman and vice chairman posts in a short organizational meeting held before the work session.

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Present at the work session in the Clarke County Circuit Courthouse were Staelin, Hobert, A.R. "Pete" Dunning Jr., Barbara J. Byrd, and David Weiss.

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