Impact of drilling large wells on neighboring properties

by Lisa

Our township has just rezoned a rural area to allow high-density residential for an area where existing home are on acre lots.

All of our wells are fed by aquifers. NONE of us wanted the development due to the rural nature of our area. It will forever be destroyed.

What if any recourse do we have if the developer plans on drilling LARGE wells that adversely impacts our well systems?

Zoning approval was just granted and now the developer will be bringing his plans before board in approximately 6 months.

Editors Reply: It certainly is possible that you might have some legal recourse if a high-density development near you causes your own individual wells to go dry.

Your chances of success in bringing a lawsuit could only be assessed after a competent attorney evaluates the facts of your particular case.

At this stage in the process, it appears to us that you should be concentrating on two things:

(1) Mounting a political campaign to get your elected officials to do the best job possible in reviewing the specific development plan when it is brought forward, and to enact as many safeguards for the existing residents as possible, given that they already have approved the rezoning.

For this next round, we would suggest that you try to avoid any public rhetoric about losing your rural character, since you sort of already lost that battle.

Instead, stay focused on concrete concessions that you need in order to avoid the most adverse impacts of new development, which certainly would include any negative effects that new wells would have on your current water wells.

(2) Gathering facts so that your presentation to your public officials sounds just as rational and reasonable as possible.

Zeroing in on the issue of impact on your wells, investigate the likely extent of that damage. Find a geologist as quickly as you can, asking at local colleges and universities. That person may have only the most general of notions about groundwater geology, but he or she may know a hydrologist or other professional with specialized expertise that could be available to you locally.

You see, someone would need to know the soil type and most prevalent underground rock characteristics in your area to understand whether the risk to you would be high, medium, or low. Starting to have some expert opinion on your side would be very helpful.

You won't get a detailed geological study free, but most experts are happy to share some knowledge and opinions with you on a limited basis.

Companies that drill wells locally also can be abundant sources of information on this topic. Ask them if they are having to dig deeper, generally speaking, to find water these days. Of course they may not have much recent experience in your immediate area, if all the homes were developed some time ago. In that case, just ask for their gut feel based on similar experiences.

In the meantime, also ask the old timers in your area what they know or remember about historic ground water levels, as compared to now. If the water table is lower and lower as more homes are built and more wells are drilled, that may help you predict what will happen next.

After gathering all this information, you will be in a stronger position politically to try to obtain the best development plan possible.

For instance, your local officials likely will have some control over how much impervious surface the new development brings to the area. Sensitive development using permeable paving materials and minimizing building footprints, sidewalks, driveways, and parking areas would certainly help keep the impact of the new development to the minimum possible. Use your political clout to help make this happen.

If you start doing some real investigation now into what is known about local geology and groundwater levels, you will be in a much stronger position later if you feel you have to sue.

Certainly let your elected officials know that you are checking into the facts, educating yourselves about groundwater supply, and considering how to recover damages if you experience any adverse consequences as a result of their decision.

You are right to be concerned about this. No one really wants to see their wells dry up, or their pumps decline in effectiveness and have to be replaced. These things could happen if the groundwater is depleted faster than it is replenished by rain and snow melt.

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