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Wells are drying up in three northern county towns

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Posted on October 4, 2018 |
By Christopher Ross



ADDISON COUNTY — The drought that continues to plague northern Vermont has begun to affect Addison County.

Residents in Ferrisburgh, Monkton and Starksboro reported that their wells have run dry.

Penny Oosterman said her well in Ferrisburgh dried up about a month ago.

“I had just bought a brand-new washer and dryer. Then one day I ran a load of laundry and nothing but dirt water came into the washer. It gunked everything up,” she said.

There hasn’t been any water since.

“I just had the water plumbing in my house repaired because it kept freezing up in the winter and now I don’t even have any water to run through the pipes.”

Lewis Creek, which runs across the northern tier of Addison County, looks low for this time of year, too, Oosterman said. The rain doesn’t seem to be replenishing it.

“I’ve lived here 40 years and never seen it this dry. I used to gauge water levels by looking at nearby ponds, but you can’t see the ponds from the road anymore.”

Oosterman’s neighbor has been delivering water to her house in a 250-gallon sap tank, and her brother-in-law has also brought water. It could be worse, her well water is non-potable and she normally only uses it for bathing and washing but buys her drinking water in bottles from Kinney Drug.

“It’s just me and my little dog. We don’t need much,” she said.

Oosterman lost her garden this year, as well.

“The whole thing is quite an inconvenience, and it can get expensive if you’re not aware you’re low on water,” she said. “I’m 65 years old and disabled. It’s not easy to lug water into the house. Thankfully I have wonderful kids and neighbors. But I hate going to the Laundromat when I have a new washer and dryer.”

In response to a few phone calls and emails to town officials, the Ferrisburgh selectboard discussed “water shortage issues for town residents with private wells” at its Oct. 2 meeting. Selectboard member Steve Gutkowski said he was unaware of any town resources available to address the issue. Board chair Rick Ebel concluded that it “was not an emergency situation.” He had spoken with Fire Chief Bill Wager, who suggested that residents experiencing shortages could contact local water haulers.

“Thankfully, we’ve got some rain coming down now,” Ebelsaid.

WATER FROM FIREHOUSE

In Monkton, it also was a washing machine that tipped off residents Nana Kristen and Dave Bristol in August.

“We could hear it having trouble pumping water and then there was no water left,” Kristen said.

Kristen and Bristol’s well, which was 25 feet deep, had served the previous owners fine for 30 years, she said.

The couple managed to get a well-drilling appointment with Chevalier Drilling Co., which is based in Highgate Springs. While they waited, Monkton Town Clerk Sharon Gomez let them into the fire station to get water from the kitchen sink there.

“Sharon was really helpful to us,” Kristen said.

Two weeks ago, Chevalier drilled a new well on their property.

“It’s 320 feet (deep),” Kristen said. “They hit a stream so we have enough water for eight houses. We have great water pressure.”

In Starksboro, Traci Orvis and her family live in the house that used to belong to her husband’s grandparents.

“Old farmhouse, shallow well,” Orvis said. “They never had trouble with it, but now we are two adults and two teenagers.”

Their well ran dry at the end of July.

“It just died,” she said.

Her family went away on vacation in early August and hoped the well would replenish while they were gone, but it didn’t happen.

“We’ve been hauling water in sap cubes and doing laundry and taking showers off-site,” she said. “It’s easy to take it for granted until it’s gone.”

The Orvises had to take out a loan to have a new well drilled, she said. Chevalier is scheduled to do the work in about three weeks.

Chevalier is struggling to keep up with demand, said service manager Dave Chevalier. The drilling company is about 50 percent busier than normal and they have a backlog.

“Spring/shallow wells are more affected by seasonal rainfall,” he said. “Even shallower drilled wells — 50 to 60 feet — are being impacted. A lot of wells will come back when it rains, but it takes several days of soaking rain, which we haven’t gotten (especially in northern Vermont).”

Chevalier has peered down a few wells and seen “nothing but rocks,” he said.

The company’s backlog will shrink when rain comes, Chevalier predicted. Last year a client had canceled an appointment with the company after rain had replenished his well. That same client made an appointment this year and again canceled.

LESS RAINFALL

Though historic rainfall totals for individual towns, especially small ones like those in Addison County, can be difficult to compile, data from the weather station at the Middlebury State Airport suggests that between Jan. 1 and Sept. 30, 2018, the area has received 22 percent less precipitation than usual — 21.11 inches, compared with a historic average of 27.14 over those nine months — according to meteorological website weatherunderground.com.

In northern Vermont the drought has become severe (see state report by clicking here).

The Stowe Reporter on Sept. 20 reported that springs and wells were drying up all over the northern third of the state, the result of “one of Vermont’s worst droughts in two decades.” Some locations had seen less than half their normal precipitation, according to Mark Breen, senior meteorologist at the Fairbanks Museum and Planetarium in St. Johnsbury. Breen added that there’s no indication the state will experience extremely dry or wet conditions this fall.

In the meantime, according to the Reporter, Jericho-based well drillers Spafford and Sons has pulled crews from its station near Middlebury to cover areas with severe drought. Spafford Vice President Jeffrey Williams could not be reached for this story.

In Ferrisburgh, Penny Oosterman is hoping for more rain.

“Vermonters are pretty good about taking care of themselves,” she said. “But I feel like this is getting close to an emergency.”

Local forecasts are calling for less than an inch of rain over the next 10 days in Middlebury, but weather in Vermont, as everyone knows, is always subject to change.

Editor’s note: Additional reporting for this story was provided by Andy Kirkaldy.

Reach Christopher Ross at [email protected]

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