Wellhead protection nips water problems in the bud
Although wellhead protection has been used for more than a decade to safeguard public drinking supplies, it is a compulsory measure in only six states. North Carolina could become the seventh state, although only four of the state’s community water supply systems have successfully fulfilled EPA and state certification requirements.
More than 100 other public and private water systems in North Carolina have started work on wellhead protection. Ayden, N.C., population 5,000, one of the four to complete certification, has learned that the benefits of a protection plan extend far beyond drinking water.
Andy Brown, an East Carolina University student who is spearheading Ayden’s initiative, says the information gathered during the implementation of wellhead protection provides data that is needed in more effective land use plans, infrastructure designs and growth management strategies. Moreover, the initiative serves as a positive public relations tool because tax dollars are being used to achieve multiple benefits while protecting public health.
Determining which lands fell within the wellhead protection area was the first crucial step in implementing Ayden’s program. The demarcation process required riding around the protection area and identifying potential contaminant sources from a list furnished by EPA and the North Carolina Rural Water Association.
The visual inspection and questionnaires distributed to residents and business owners revealed such potential contaminant sources as abandoned wells, underground and above-ground storage tanks, illegal dumps, old landfills, automobile salvage yards, and businesses and industries that used chemical and petroleum products. Improperly sighted or maintained septic tanks also can be a source of groundwater contamination, so properties with wells and/or septic tanks also were catalogued.
Ayden now knows where higher concentrations of potential contamination sources lie. This information, combined with hydrological research, already is proving useful as the town administration begins planning the best location for another well.
The town also has ascertained which areas within the county are inappropriate for residential development. That information will benefit Ayden when it lays out zoning plans and ordinances in the future. Some of the areas determined to be undesirable hid potential environmental liabilities that could have proved legally disastrous in the city’s and residents’ efforts to acquire extraterritorial lands.
Finally, Ayden has pinpointed residential concentrations outside of the town’s boundaries that are most suitable for future water and sewer services. That knowledge will help guide the town’s infrastructure expansion.
“Ayden’s planning board, board of commissioners and the town administration will need to decide what best fits their needs and implement accordingly,” Brown says. To that end, the town is seeking citizen input through public forums.