News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Local & Bistate

July 1, 2012

Deep Problems: Drought conditions taking toll on ground water levels

TERRE HAUTE — Rural residents expecting an endless supply of free well water this summer could find but a trickle given the drought.

Less than a quarter-inch of rain fell on Terre Haute in June, after a May where the National Weather Service reports 0.92 inch fell on the first, and wettest, day. No measurable precipitation has fallen since the 0.05 inch on June 5, And air temperatures have exceeded 100 degrees on multiple occasions.

Steve Howard, owner of West Pump and Well Services on North 11th Street, said the impact is apparent.

“We drilled six replacement wells this month because the water table has dropped,” he said.

Water tables, or the depth below ground at which one finds water, can vary significantly by location and source, West and others said.

The U.S. Geological Survey maintains test wells throughout the state to monitor those levels, in conjunction with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. According to information provided by the USGS, the last observation at the site in Terre Haute on May 4 determined water below ground surface to be 42.18 feet down, not out of line with the 42- to 45-feet average across 25 years.

But that reading applies only to that site and that date, USGS hydrologist Martin Risch pointed out.

Risch, who works at the Indiana Water Science Center, explained those numbers are useful as a reference for overall groundwater conditions, noting that in some drought years the measurement fell to 50 feet. A June reading is not yet available.

Howard said water tables vary widely in Vigo County, with some areas in Terre Haute able to hit water at 30 feet and others 100. Overall though, he estimated those numbers have fallen between 10 and 15 feet. As owner of the company since 1981, Howard said the last time he saw conditions this dry was in 1988. How much rain would be required to restore the ground’s water would vary from location to location, he said.

“I’d say the drought that we’re experiencing now is probably going to be worse before it’s over with,” he said, contrasting this year with 1988. Wells not drilled with enough storage might have to be replaced at the homeowner’s expense.

“Depending on where it’s at, [it could cost] anywhere from $2,500 to $10,000,” Howard said.

Varying sources

An aquifer is an underground layer of cracked rock or unconsolidated materials which is saturated with water, Risch explained. The southern third of Indiana typically contains more bedrock aquifers, as opposed to those in the northern area with sand, gravel and silt. The depth and type play a role in how damaging a drought can be, as deeper aquifers are less likely to be impacted than those more shallow. Conversely, the deeper the aquifer, the longer it takes surface water to reach it, he said.

According to information maintained in the IDNR’s ground water reports, the state’s central region fares better on the whole than its southern third.

“In the central portion of the state, ground-water conditions range from fair to good,” the report states, adding well yields from 100 to 600 gallons-per-minute are typical. Major ground-water sources include the West Fork of the White, Whitewater, Eel and Wabash rivers, and bedrock aquifers in the Silurian-Devonian limestone sequence are also utilized.

Meanwhile, some areas in southern Indiana have wells producing less than 10 gallons per minute, the report states.

Local supplies

Area municipalities appear to be stable at present.

Joe Loughmiller of the Indiana-American Water Co., said the company’s supply is currently in good standing.

“We’re not having any trouble right now and our aquifers are recharging daily,” he said.

In addition to the City of Terre Haute, the company supplies water to Farmersburg, Sullivan and Prairieton, as well as the Sullivan-Vigo Water Corp. and Riley. About 32,000 customers use the company, representing an approximate population served of 82,000, he said.

The average daily demand for the company is roughly 10 million gallons, he said, adding their seven wells average 100 feet in depth.

Meanwhile, the Seelyville Water Works issued a public request to its customers on June 22, asking for a voluntarily reduction in unnecessary usage during this period of drought.

“This is not to say that we have a shortage of water in the ground, that is not the case, but we are concerned that usage at these continual high daily rates will reduce our storage levels too low in the case of an emergency such as fire or other event,” the release states.

Brian Boyce can be reached at 812-231-4253 or brian.boyce@tribstar.com.

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