Groundwater groups: Don’t you forget about me

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As talks about infrastructure continue in Washington, D.C., the National Ground Water Association wants lawmakers to remember water wells.

More than 40 million people, mostly in rural areas, depend on about 15 million residential water wells as their main source of clean water. President Joe Biden’s infrastructure plan calls for increased funding to help rural residents connect to public water systems and for water treatment systems.

But putting money towards helping residents rehabilitate, replace or deepen wells would be more practical and cost efficient, the National Ground Water Association argues. The group sent a letter to congressional leaders June 8 urging them to expand grant eligibility within the Safe Drinking Water Act to include improvements to residential well systems.

“While connecting homeowners to public water systems is certainly an option, it is often one that comes at great expense to the homeowner and the community, which raises the cost of water supply for everyone,” the letter reads.

More than 20 state groundwater groups, including the Ohio Water Well Association and Pennsylvania Groundwater Association, signed the letter.

Practical solution

A bipartisan agreement was struck June 10, between a group of 10 Democrat and Republican senators, on an infrastructure deal that would not include tax increases, but the plan had yet to pass Senate leadership. Details were not immediately available.

The coalition of five Democratic and five Republican senators came together, after negotiations over the infrastructure plan between the White House and a small group of Republicans collapsed earlier in the week.

Biden’s original $2 trillion infrastructure plan called for $111 billion for clean drinking water projects, including $45 billion to replace all lead pipes and services lines in the country, $56 billion to upgrade drinking water, wastewater and stormwater systems and $10 billion to monitor and remediate per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, in drinking water and invest in rural water systems.

Water infrastructure is one thing that typically gets bipartisan approval, said Ben Frech, spokesman for the National Groundwater Association, based in Columbus. The bill to reauthorize a variety of programs through the Safe Drinking Water Act, Senate Bill 914, passed 89-2 in April.

Frech said well waters are typically left out of these sorts of infrastructure bills, in favor of funding efforts to connect rural residents to public water systems or improve public water systems in small or disadvantaged communities.

While these programs are important and there are advantages to using public water, it’s also critical to keep people on wells. Public water systems aren’t always available in all rural areas.

Additionally, the costs of tapping into a public water line can far exceed the cost to install or rehab a private well. A study completed by the NGWA found that installing a private residential well costs about $10,000 on average. The cost to connect to a public water system ranged from $14,000 in Suffolk, Virginia to $80,000 in one Georgia town.

Putting funds toward more cost-effective wells could make these programs go further and reach more people, Frech said.

“We want to make sure people have that option to stay on a well, and make sure people have the same resources to hook up to a public water system as they do to rehab their well,” Frech said.

(Reporter Rachel Wagoner can be contacted at 800-837-3419 or rachel@farmanddairy.com.)

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Rachel is a reporter with Farm and Dairy and a graduate of Clarion University of Pennsylvania. She married a fourth-generation beef and sheep farmer and settled down in her hometown in Beaver County. Before coming to Farm and Dairy, she worked at several daily and weekly newspapers throughout Western Pennsylvania covering everything from education and community news to police and courts.

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