BUTLER TWP. — Last year when a company tested a well from which it wants to draw hundreds of thousands of gallons of water for bottling, wells in a nearby resort community of Beech Mountain Lakes didn’t pump enough to supply homeowners.
Beech Mountain’s wells were old and slowed by buildup of iron and microbes — the aquifer wasn’t drying out.
But the incident underscored worries that Beech Mountain residents shared Thursday with township supervisors and representatives of a multi-state agency that eventually will decide on the bottling proposal.
Beech Mountain residents said the bottling plans of Deep Woods Lake might reduce their water supply and property values, but force up their water bills.
They also said water trucks going to and from Deep Woods’ well will pose challenges on the emergency exit from Beech Mountain and Honey Hole Road.
Butler’s supervisors don’t like the plans of Deep Woods Lake any more than the Beech Mountain residents, but they have little authority because the company’s well is in adjoining Dennison Twp.
According to the proposal, trucks would arrive regularly at the well and carry away water to bottling plants.
Authority to regulate water withdrawals rests with the Susquehanna River Basin Commission in areas that drain into the river, which flows through New York, Pennsylvania and Maryland.
Michael Appleby, a groundwater supervisor at SRBC, said the agency can deny, approve or put restrictions on Deep Woods after it finishes reviewing plans.
“We’re still partway through the review. We’re nowhere near done,” Appleby said.
After Deep Woods tested its well for three days in November 2018, Appleby and his colleagues looked at what happened to nearby streams, springs and the lake and wells at Beech Mountain.
“For the most part, the impact of the well didn’t seem too bad,” he said.
Appleby said the well primarily would affect two areas, Beech Mountain and approximately 2,000 acres that Deep Woods owns in Dennison, Butler and Foster townships.
The review will consider how droughts of one and 10 years would affect supplies in that area, consider the maximum flows of all wells there and whether well levels would drop below water-bearing zones.
Appleby said the SRBC can deny Deep Woods’ application, although that seldom happens.
“I don’t want to give you false hope,” he said to residents. But the SRBC also can approve projects or approve with conditions, such as limiting withdrawals to less than Deep Woods requested.
Deep Woods also needs a permit from Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection to proceed.
The company, based in West Milton, Union County, seeks to withdraw at most 325 gallons per minute, which equates to 467,000 gallons a day if the well operated around the clock.
Because Dennison Twp. limited operating hours when giving Deep Woods permission to install a one-story building and storage tanks at the well site in March 2017, the SRBC asked whether the company plans to pump from the well faster or reduce its daily draw. Appleby said the SRBC is waiting for the answer and wants to establish how much water Deep Woods really needs.
The amount that Deep Woods wants to withdraw is more than double the approximately 200,000 gallons consumed at Beech Mountain daily.
Meanwhile, the water company that supplies Beech Mountain has reacted. Aqua Pennsylvania developed a third well — which the SRBC has approved, is replacing pipelines in Beech Mountain and has trucked in water to supply residents when necessary.
Daniel Lockwood, a spokesman for Aqua, when contacted after the meeting, said the company currently meets demand with existing wells but is developing another source to add resiliency to the water system at Beech Mountain.
“Aqua is confident that Deep Woods Lake is working through the same regulatory process that our company works within and that the regulators will ensure that the water rights of both Aqua and Deep Woods Lake are protected,” Lockwood said in an email.
Beech Mountain residents asked during meeting what would happen if the level or their lake dropped or a well went dry.
Appleby said the SRBC can investigate and require Deep Woods to fix problems it causes. The company, for example, might stop withdrawing water until the aquifer replenishes and deliver water to people who lost supplies.
When defining an aquifer, Appleby said its less of an underground stream or reservoir but rather a collection of cracks in rocks where water collects underground. As with a checking account, withdrawals shouldn’t exceed deposits in an aquifer.
Even if Deep Woods receives approval, its well will have a meter. Records from the meter showing the flow have to be sent to the SRBC four times a year. Deep Woods would have to renew its permit in 15 years, but the SRBC can add conditions before then.
Asked by a resident what happens if Deep Woods goes bankrupt, Appleby said the SRBC can’t control that but normally aquifers replenish when wells stop pumping.
Township Solicitor Donald Karpowich said he was surprised that the SRBC doesn’t require companies like Deep Woods to post bonds. The township requires bonds when a builder installs a sewer pipe, Karpowich said while suggesting that the state Legislature consider requiring bonds for water projects.
Gene Veno, the SRBC’s director of governmental affairs and public advocacy, told Beech Mountain residents to tell legislators their views about Deep Woods’ plans.
Veno said the SRBC would be willing to attend an evening meeting for residents of Butler and Dennison townships to answer additional questions.
Supervisor Brian Kisenwether suggested inviting officials from Luzerne County, which owns Honey Hole Road. Appleby said the well at Deep Woods might fill a tanker truck every 20 minutes so three trucks an hour might travel the road.
Dr. Frank Polidora said Deep Woods’ plans create no benefits, only problems.
“The public gets nothing. We get nothing. Dennison Twp. gets nothing. This is a bad thing for the area,” Polidora said.