(Feb. 2, 2009, Standard-Speaker)
The recent announcement of state funding to improve the residential water system at Eagle Rock is good news for residents of the local resort community. And it’s good news for Aqua Pennsylvania Inc. — provider of the community’s drinking and wastewater services.
But for the Hazleton City Authority, the news raises concerns that increasing demands for water in that area could deplete the aquifer.
The Pennsylvania Infrastructure Investment Authority (PENNVEST) this week announced a $882,000 loan to Aqua Pennsylvania to help fund ongoing improvements to the water system in the Eagle Rock community. The money will be used to replace about 6,000 feet of 8-inch water main piping as well as water mains along Lake Valley Drive.
“Complaints of low pressure, poor circulation, inadequate flow and unaccounted-for water have been a continuous problem in the Eagle Rock community. These funds will assure that families have adequate and quality drinking water,” PENNVEST said.
Pat Burke, regional manager for Aqua Pennsylvania’s northeast and central Pennsylvania operations, said the funding will help accomplish “preventative maintenance” of residential water service.
“I would call it preventative maintenance of old piping that is probably from the original development of Eagle Rock,” Burke said.
When news of the PENNVEST loan to Aqua Pennsylvania for improvements at Eagle Rock reached Randy Cahalan, manager of the Hazleton City (water) Authority, Cahalan said that maintenance of existing water lines is always prudent, but that caution should be exercised over any increases in demand for water in that area.
According to Cahalan, there is a triple draw on the aquifer in that area that has some people concerned that the water supply could run dry.
“There is a lot of competition for water out there in the western part of town. We are all competing for water in the same aquifer,” Cahalan said.
The aquifer is a natural underground water source that yields groundwater for wells and springs.
Aqua Pennsylvania at Eagle Rock, the Hazleton City (water) Authority and CAN DO’s Humboldt Industrial Park all draw water from the same aquifer on the southwestern edge of Luzerne County.
“Is there concern? Yes. There is a concern that there is enough water for everybody,” Cahalan said.
Susan Obleski, director of communications for the Susquehanna River Basin Commission, said Cahalan’s concerns are not off target.
“We are considering adding the Eagle Rock area to the list of potentially stressed areas,” Obleski said.
Issues that can stress an area’s water supply may be natural, such as absence of an adequate aquifer, or man-made, such as unchecked population growth and poor development planning.
In Greater Hazleton and across the coal region at large, contamination of water by acid mine drainage adds further stress to available water resources.
“There are limited available water resources in that area, and there does seem to be growing competition for available water resources. An added complication in that area is the acid mine drainage compromise,” Obleski said.
Overall, the Susquehanna River Basin is a “water rich” area with a few “pockets” of stressed or challenged areas, Obleski said.
Pat Burke, regional manager for Aqua PA’s Northeast and Central Pennsylvania Operations, said he is unaware of water supply concerns in the Eagle Rock area.
“Our supplies are pretty good there. This is the first I’m hearing of concerns,” Burke said.
According to Obleski, Burke is correct — the Eagle Rock/Humboldt area in Luzerne and Schuylkill counties is not on the SRBC’s stressed list — yet. But water use and availability in that area is being closely monitored.
“If they needed an expansion of water use in that area, our engineers and hydrogeologists would closely review the application, which is normal when there are concerns about a potentially stressed area,” Obleski said.
When reviewing an application for increased water usage in a potentially stressed area, the SRBC commissioners have a range of options: approve the application, make modifications to the application, or deny the application.
Outright denial of an application, Obleski said, is not a routine occurrence.
“That is a step that isn’t prevalent because, during the initial review process, we work with the applicant to identify alternatives if their anticipated water use exceeds availability. However, we would recommend denial and advise the applicant to look elsewhere in the event of strong evidence that resources in that area would not sustain additional draw,” she said.
Cahalan said HCA is also concerned that any additional draw on the western aquifer would have a negative effect on water availability for existing residences and businesses in that area.
According to Obleski, the SRBC shares those concerns.
“If a new application comes in, we make sure any new use doesn’t impact existing residential or other water users,” she said.
Should SRBC engineers and geologists conduct a study on local water availability, Cahalan said HCA would request a copy of the final report.
“I would be concerned if any additional wells were put on that aquifer. That would be a concern,” Cahalan said.
According to Obleski, the SRBC manages water resources and monitors water supply allocation — not only in potentially stressed areas such as western Hazleton/Eagle Rock/Humboldt area — but all along the river basin from New York state to the Chesapeake Bay.
“We know that Hazleton is concerned about its water supplies and the limits to its resources,” Obleski said.
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