Work begins on idle well

Filters being installed to remove solvent that exceeds federal standard

Completion expected by July

Meanwhile, expert warns that ground lacks water to serve city's growth


May 27, 2004|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

Six months after Taneytown shut down its most productive well, construction has begun on the installation of filters to remove a solvent that tested above the federal standard for drinking water.

City officials hope to have Well No. 13 back in service by the end of next month - although at half its capacity - as car-washing and lawn-watering season begins to increase demand.

The pump house first must almost double in size to accommodate the charcoal filters - three 3,000-pound cylinders that each measures 6 feet tall by 4 feet in diameter - said John V. Dillenburg, a retired senior vice president for ESAB who is still working on the Taneytown project.

The international welding and cutting products corporation acquired the company that once leased land near the well where a solvent was used. ESAB, with offices in Hanover, Pa., has agreed to pay for the filter system without admitting liability.

"We plan to have the filters installed by the end of June, early July," Dillenburg said.

Rick Weaver, Taneytown's director of public works, said, "The water level is so high now, we should be OK if we get it back in three or four weeks. I'll be glad when we get it on line."

"Water is the most important thing for this city," said Mayor W. Robert Flickinger.

But the well is only one piece of the water picture.

This month, the city received a report in which a state hydrogeologist sees far less water in underground fractures than was indicated by previous studies dating from 1988.

Patrick G. Hammond, a hydrogeologist for the Maryland Department of the Environment's Water Supply Program, prepared the evaluation at the city's request and considered its population boom.

"The present well field cannot produce enough water for expansion at past growth rates," Hammond wrote, and "a major exploration program" is needed. The population of 2,484 residents recorded in the 1980 census has jumped to 6,026 now, he noted.

"We've got to find water before we let all these homes be built," Flickinger said recently, after the City Council enacted an ordinance that requires developers of five units or more to supply water.

That requirement does not apply to development in the works - such as the almost 500-unit Carroll Vista retirement community project, where roads, storm drains, water lines and other infrastructure are being laid, said Gary W. Hardman, city manager.

Before the ordinance was enacted, the developer had only to provide sites for possible wells, Hardman said. Taneytown plans to drill five test wells as soon as possible at the sites provided by Carroll Vista. The city will use money from impact fees to explore for water, officials said.

"Carroll Vista is going to start soon," Flickinger said. "If we do not have water, we are up the creek without a paddle."

The city has three watershed areas, in which water concentrates in the cracks of dinosaur-age sandstones, Hammond said in his report. The watersheds total almost 2,000 acres and comprise the Piney Creek area to the north, a tributary of Piney Creek to the south and west, and Big Pipe Creek to the southeast.

Hammond disagreed with the yields from the wells in a 1988 study, writing: "The operational data indicate that the actual total yield of Taneytown's wells are substantially less than those estimated in previous studies (actual yield 54 to 61 percent of previous estimates)."

"This report says we have only about half of the water we thought we had," Hardman said. "Every report we've had done before states we have plenty of water. But you can talk to 10 geologists and get 10 different answers."

Hardman said officials hope to strike water when they drill test wells in the as-yet-untapped Big Pipe Creek area to augment the city's six wells.

But first, officials want the best of their six wells back in action.

When it comes back on line, No. 13 will be pumped at 120 gallons a minute, Hardman said. It probably will be a year before it is back to its usual 260 gallons a minute.

Work began Monday on the foundation to expand the pump house at the well, which was shut in November after the city was notified of a higher-than-normal level of tetrachloroethene (PCE) in nearby monitoring wells.

ESAB has not admitted liability, Dillenburg said, noting other possible contamination sources such as dry cleaners. But the company will pay about $60,000 for the filters, a new pump and pipes, and continued monitoring.

The now-vacant property on Allendale Lane, near the city's well, was leased until 2002 by All-State Welding Products, which used a solvent to clean metal rods from 1983 to 1988, Hardman said. ESAB later acquired All-State.

Tetrachloroethene, also known as tetrachloroethylene and perchloroethylene, is used in dry cleaning as well as metal degreasing, and is a potential carcinogen, causing liver and kidney damage in mice and rats, according to information provided by an MDE spokesman.

Taneytown's well has been monitored since the 1980s, Hardman said. Readings had been less than half the permissible level - until last fall, when ESAB reported a reading of 5.54 parts per billion of the chemical, which has an allowed maximum of 5 ppb.

The city could have waited another nine months for more readings, Hardman said, but the officials decided to shut it off as a precaution.

MDE issued permits for the work by ESAB and the plans were reviewed by an engineer, he said, because "you can't just let someone come install something on your water system."

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