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Want safe drinking water? Drill deeper

"We typically do advise that when they want to put in a well," said Farrar, principal geologist with local drilling company Sunbelt Environmental Systems.
Going deeper costs more money, but Farrar said it may ensure more reliable supplies of water in the future.
It might be wise to heed Farrar's suggestion.
Relatively shallow water wells serving homes in rural Greene County and surrounding areas could begin to struggle or even go dry, if new projections about declining groundwater levels prove true.
The Ozark Aquifer beneath Springfield and Joplin already has dropped more than 300 feet because of long-term pumping.
And other areas of southwest Missouri are searching for new supplies of water -- either in existing lakes or possibly by building new ones -- to meet a growing demand for water.
Water conservation can help, but abundant rain and brimming lakes in recent years have made it more difficult for people to grasp the value of conserving water.
Those were a few of the messages that emerged during a two-day conference "Shaping Our Water Future" in Springfield.
Organized by the Tri-State Water Resource Coalition and Missouri State University, the event drew more than 100 people -- city, county and state leaders, utility officials, scientists and citizens.
Study: Groundwater declining faster
Among the speakers was Joe Richards, a U.S. Geological Survey hydrologist who is analyzing groundwater levels in Greene County.
Although his study won't be finished until next year, Richards' initial results out to the year 2030 show a disturbing trend.
The Springfield region already is pumping more water out of the ground than rainfall can put back in.
Using water pumping rates from 2006 -- and even if no more wells were drilled from that day forward -- the groundwater will continue to decline, Richards said.
"If we increase water withdrawals (because of population growth and new wells) it magnifies the drawdown even more," Richards said.
"How much those declines could be will be included in the final study in late 2010."
Richards said cities around Springfield that get their water from deep wells probably won't be affected.
Their wells go nearly to the bottom of the aquifer, which is about 1,000 feet thick.
But declining groundwater levels could impact shallower domestic wells. More than 4,500 domestic wells were included in the study.
"To what degree, I can't yet answer," Richards said.
His study factors low growth in the region, high growth, a four-year drought and addition of a large industrial-capacity well.
He said the worst-case scenario in the study was high population growth in the region coupled with a four-year drought.
"With high growth and drought, you'll get more pronounced drawdown of the aquifer," he said.
Presiding Greene County Commissioner Dave Coonrod said he was glad to hear municipal wells wouldn't be unduly affected.
"But what about people living in rural areas with wells?" he asked. "This shows the need for stewardship of a very valuable resource. It's irresponsible for us to waste our water resource."
Better data needed
Several conference speakers noted that Missouri's water laws have significantly less teeth in them than surrounding states.
Missouri, for example, doesn't require well operators to report how much water they pump, so the state has little solid data to gauge how much water is being removed from aquifers.
Coonrod suggested state law should be changed to require water use reporting.
State Rep. Shane Schoeller attended the water conference but said he was reluctant to place additional regulations on water well users.
"I think we've got to be real cautious about that," Schoeller said. "We need more education so people understand how aquifers work. Right now, I think too many people have too many regulations. I'm very cautious about that -- requiring more regulations."
Although well reports aren't required, Missouri is improving its effort to track groundwater levels.
Ryan Mueller, water resources director for the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, said the state is expanding its network of well gauges across the state.
The monitors -- 38 are in place in southwest Missouri -- provide real-time data about groundwater levels, accessible through the DNR Web site.
Mueller said Missouri is ahead of most states in the number of real-time groundwater monitors, but said more need to be in place.
"We need to do more to identify water use in the state," Mueller said. "We have a poor understanding of how much water we use in the state of Missouri."
Springfield secured future water supply
After conducting a water study in the late 1980s, Springfield City Utilities decided to buy water from Stockton Lake instead of building a dam in Webster County or piping water from Table Rock Lake.
Working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, CU paid $4.6 million for 25,000 acre-feet of water a year -- more than 8 billion gallons -- from Stockton Lake.
CU also has rights to a second allocation of 25,000 acre-feet, which it must purchase by 2016.
That's enough water to supply Springfield's water needs through about 2040.
Several conference speakers applauded CU for its long-range planning that ensured a water supply for Springfield for decades to come.
Communities west of Springfield haven't been so fortunate.
Their reliance on dwindling supplies of groundwater prompted formation of the Tri-State Water Resource Coalition.
Tri-State initiated a USGS groundwater study of the Joplin area, southeast Kansas and northwest Oklahoma.
Unlike the USGS study in Greene County, the Joplin study found continued growth and drought conditions would completely drain some parts of the aquifer and make even large water wells useless.
Pete Rausch, utilities superintendent of Monett and a Tri-State board member, said two-thirds of the jobs in Monett are tied to businesses that depend on reliable water supplies.
With groundwater supplies dwindling, Tri-State has looked to existing reservoirs -- Grand Lake in Oklahoma, Stockton Lake and Table Rock Lake -- for water.
"Largely, the impediments we've run up against are political in nature," he said.
Though Table Rock Lake has 50,000 acre-feet of water available, it remains beyond Tri-State's reach until the Army Corps of Engineers conducts an impact study.
Though Table Rock Lake has 50,000 acre-feet of water available, it remains beyond Tri-State's reach until the Army Corps of Engineers conducts an impact study.
But Mike Biggs, Little Rock Army Corps water resource manager, said the corps has no money to do such a study.
And, he said there already are nine study requests ahead of Tri-State's.
"There's not much hope at this point for getting funding," Biggs said.
Bob Nichols, president of the Tri-State group, said the organization has sought help from Missouri's Congressional delegation, possibly for an earmark to fund the study.
"No one from our delegation has been willing to do that," Nichols said.
Tri-State may try a different tack.
The corps is barred by law from accepting money from private groups -- cities and groups like Tri-State included.
But Nichols said Tri-State may seek to change that law so it could accelerate the Table Rock study by paying for it, instead of waiting for federal funding.
"We will explore that with our Congressional delegation to see if the Corps can take money from outside a federal agency," he said.
New reservoirs possible
Even if Tri-State were able to pay for the study, it could take up to seven years to complete.
Tri-State commissioned another study to identify possible sites for new reservoirs, but emphasized that would be a last-choice option.
The study recommended three potential reservoir sites for further review -- including one on Crane Creek southeast of Aurora.
Rauch said Tri-State would pursue additional studies of new reservoirs "when appropriate."
The Tri-State organization is positioning itself to be able to act if a water pipeline or new reservoirs become viable options.
The Tri-State board recently voted to incorporate as a nonprofit water authority.
The new organization will have the legal power of eminent domain and authority to issue bonds to pay for water projects.
Lloyd Young, professor emeritus of Missouri State University, said solving the region's water issues likely will take many years.
He said the effort needs to remain targeted on two fronts.
"We need to keep focused on water conservation and we need to continue working together as a region," he said.

"Smaller communities out there simply have no way to build the kind of infrastructure needed to ensure a future water supply."

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