Resident irate over failed well He blames pumping by nearby golf course

June 14, 1996|By Donna R. Engle | Donna R. Engle,SUN STAFF

Golfers pulling into Challedon Golf Course, which opened this week, had to pass a large hand-lettered sign on a front lawn opposite the course. It reads: "Our Well Went Dry Think Before You Buy."

Dr. Ronald Miller, a Mount Airy internist, put the sign up nine months ago after the failure of a well that had served his family for six years and, Miller said, a previous owner for 50 years.

The well went dry after a summer during which he saw the golf course developers irrigating despite a drought, Miller said.

The developer, Magna Holdings Inc., is building 147 single-family houses as part of the golf course project. Miller estimated that 10 prospective homebuyers have stopped to ask about his well.

"I just [put up the sign] because I figured that people should know," Miller said.

The well failure in mid-September 1995 left the physician, his wife and three children without water. The family spent $4,000 to have a new well drilled.

What angers Miller are conclusions by the Maryland Department of the Environment and his belief that he was given false information four years ago.

The MDE, which investigated the well failure at Miller's request, concluded that Challedon's pumping was one of three causes of the well's failure but that the golf course was not unreasonably appropriating the water and owed Miller no compensation. The golf course has a permit to pump an average of 230,000 gallons a day for irrigation.

Drought and the family's use of the water were the other two causes identified.

Miller agreed that the drought -- only traces of rain fell from early August to mid-September last year -- affected water levels. But he said his family didn't increase its water use.

A spokeswoman for Joseph Meyerhoff, president of Magna Holdings Inc., referred all questions to Rich Katz of Billy Casper Golf Management, the course managers. Katz refused to comment on the well failure or on why the course continued pumping water during the drought.

Miller recalled that a team of geologists who he thought were from the MDE checked his well in 1991 or 1992, after Challedon developers applied for a well permit.

"They told me I would never have to worry" because the well had a good flow, Miller recalled. He said he relied on that assurance and did not attend public hearings on the golf course or subdivision plans.

The geologists were consultants retained by the developer, said Matthew G. Pajerowski, acting chief of the MDE's water rights division.

"We don't do any testing ourselves," he said. "The cost of testing should be borne by the applicant. They should have the burden of proving the water is there."

Whenever Challedon pumps water from its well, the water level in Miller's well might drop as much as 1 to 2 feet, but that doesn't give the MDE the right to halt the pumping, Pajerowski said. In Maryland, water rights are based on common law doctrine that gives every property owner the right to reasonable use of water, he said.

"We can't say nobody can have any impact on the water table. We have to determine whether the impact is reasonable," Pajerowski said.

The Miller well was a "relatively shallow" 41 feet deep, Pajerowski said. The MDE investigator found that the well's water depth was 28 or 29 feet when no pumping occurred, giving Miller 8 feet of water above his pump.

The drought probably caused the water table to drop 3 or 4 feet, Pajerowski said.

That drop, along with the Challedon pumping, brought the water level to 2 feet above the pump, which couldn't work with that small an amount of water remaining, he said.

The MDE has the authority to suspend or revoke a permit, or to force a developer to replace a failed well if the agency finds an unreasonable use.

"I was really naive at the time. I just trusted everyone," Miller said. "The golf course sounded like a good thing."

Pub Date: 6/14/96

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.