Homeowners' wells failing at alarming pace

Rate could reach 10 times normal, official predicts

Possibly 100 for August

Digging costs climb as crews search deeper

Carroll County

August 23, 2002|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Plummeting ground water levels, associated with the prolonged drought, are causing wells throughout Carroll County to fail in alarming numbers, statistics that could reach 10 times the normal rate.

The number of failures could reach 100 this month, compared with 10 in August 2001, county health officials said yesterday.

Before discussing the issue with the county commissioners, Edwin F. Singer, assistant director of Carroll's environmental health bureau, had prepared graphs showing the rising spiral in residential well failures throughout the area. As he was leaving the office, his secretary told him to add 11 more to the list.

"We may bust 100 this month," said Singer.

Add that 11 to the 70 reported this month, and Singer's prediction is not far off. The county had 109 failures all of last year. The lack of significant snowfalls and the drought are causing precipitous drops in ground water levels. When those levels drop below a well location, a home's pipes run dry.

"This is the worst 12 months as far as rainfall since records were kept back in the 1870s," Singer said. "Ground water levels are at record lows. In July, we hit a record of 39 replacement well permits. This is having a real impact on people."

Six of Carroll's eight towns rely on wells for water to supply residents. Months ago, municipal officials imposed stringent restrictions on outdoor use.

"The towns that are solely on well water are seeing levels way down," said Singer. "The towns are very concerned."

The worst might be ahead, said James Slater, county drought manager.

"My concern is that there is usually a lag between the worst hot weather and the failures," said Slater. "October and November could be really bad."

Replacement wells can cost up to $5,000 to drill, especially if drillers have to dig more than one to find water. Many are hitting dry holes, Singer said.

"Drillers are having to go deeper and deeper to reach water, and that is adding significantly to the costs," said Slater. "We are helping homeowners look at all the options they can. Some are hauling water to storage tanks."

Homes with shallower wells run the greatest risk of failure. With a well that is 85 feet deep at his Westminster home, Larry L. Leitch, director of the Carroll County Health Department, said he fears he soon will be among the statistics.

"If you move to a house with a well, you are taking more of a risk than if you are on the public water system," Leitch said. "People should think about that when they see that dream home on the hill. No matter what it costs, water is their responsibility."

Well-drillers are so busy that homeowners often have to wait four to six weeks to have a well dug, Singer said. Few contractors have time to build wells for homes under construction.

"Our priority is people in an emergency situation who need to get water," said Singer. "Unless there are substantial changes in the weather patterns, it is not looking good for new development."

Lenders soon might require well tests on all homes before closing on mortgages.

"It is probably better to find out before closing on a home," said Singer. "It is tough up front, but this should be resolved before moving in."

Lenders are increasingly reluctant to approve mortgages on older homes without yield tests on the wells, Singer said.

"It is going to take sustained rainfall over a long time with significant infiltration into the ground before there is any improvement," said Singer. "Who ever thought we would be asking for a hurricane?"

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