Subject: Clarification: Houses on aquifer

October 3, 2006

Dear Board Members,

In the interests of clearing up confusion about the difference between an aquifer and an aquifer protection area and dispelling the mistaken idea that there are already hundreds of houses on the aquifer and therefore another hundred won’t matter, I have compiled a map which I am sending with this letter, along with a key to the colored lines, sources of the maps, and an explanation.

Regarding the map, please note the pink line, which delineates the boundary of the aquifer itself. Most of the houses in the DEP Aquifer Protection Area (turquoise line) or in the town-mapped Recharge Zones (purple and yellow lines) are not on the aquifer itself. Within the aquifer, the orange and blue lines bound the areas of greatest (orange) and high (blue) transmissivity. Pollution reaching these areas is likely to have the greatest effect on the drinking water, since groundwater moves through these areas more readily than through low-transmissivity areas. It is thus more likely to reach the municipal wells before pollutants are adsorbed to solids or have broken down (at least those that do adsorb or break down). As you can see from the map, of those houses that are on the aquifer, most are in low-transmissivity zones (outside the blue and orange lines and inside the pink lines.) Also, most of these houses are at the south end of the aquifer farthest away from the Aquarion wells, where the groundwater is least subject to the pull of the pumps.

There are in fact currently very few houses over the high- and greatest-transmissivity areas (blue and orange). The housing development proposed for the Ethel Walker property would of course change that dramatically; many houses would be put directly over these most sensitive  areas, with less than 30 feet of highly permeable and low-filtration-value sand between house/lawn/septic tank and water table.

In considering what is and is not permitted by various departments of state government, such as the Department of Environmental Protection and the Department of Public Health, it is important to keep in mind that their legislation in its final form is not necessarily what was originally written or intended by the department itself. A measure must first go to the legislators, who are under heavy pressure from lobbyists of large and powerful organizations whose primary interest is neither environmental protection nor public health. Only after it is rewritten under these pressures does it get passed into law. This is quite likely why the DEP does not prohibit development over a major and particularly sensitive town aquifer, even though they consider keeping such land undeveloped to be the best way to protect the water quality of an aquifer. Likewise, it is probably why the DPH does not prohibit development on such land if it is privately owned, even though they do prohibit development of the same land if it is owned by a water company. Clearly this distinction does not mean that an aquifer is less likely to be polluted or less in need of protection if it happens to be privately owned.

Incidentally, reports are now coming out about findings of water pollution by pharmaceutical and personal care products (PPCP’s), such as stimulants, anti-depressants,  hormones, antibiotics, pain killers, tranquilizers, and other medications of all kinds, as well as sunscreens, fragrances, soaps, etc. Many medicines are not totally metabolized (broken down) in the body and may be excreted unchanged along with byproducts of metabolism. These usually enter the environment through septic tanks, as well as through  treated and untreated sewage from sewage treatment facilities (rainstorms frequently cause release of untreated sewage). Neither of these wastewater treatment methods is designed to remove these types of chemicals.

Many drugs have now been established as environmental pollutants ever-present in trace amounts in surface and ground waters. Very little is known at this time about the potential hazards associated with multiple exposure to these substances, many of which are highly bioactive, and many of which may interact with each other to cause additive or greater effects.

As new products appear constantly, and as more and more generics decrease the price and increase the volume of pharmaceuticals used, this kind of pollution is likely to increase.  There is no doubt that the best way to keep these pollutants, along with all the others, out of the Stratton Brook aquifer is to preserve the Ethel Walker property in its natural state.


Dr. Susan B. Brachwitz