House Committee Holds Hearing On Water Well Standards Bill

The House Consumer Affairs Committee held a hearing Tuesday on House Bill 1855 (Miller-R-York) which requires the Environmental Quality Board to develop standards for the construction of individual drinking water wells.

            Rep. Ron Miller, prime sponsor of House Bill 1855, gave an overview of the bill and explained why it is necessary.
            "Some 20,000 new water wells are drilled each year in Pennsylvania, but the Commonwealth is one of the few states without private well regulations," he said. "More than three million Pennsylvanians rely on about one million private wells for drinking water. Improperly constructed wells can lead to poor water quality by providing pathways for bacteria and contaminants such as naturally occurring shallow methane gas to migrate into water supplies. Ensuring that the well is constructed properly from the start will help prevent water quality problems in the future."
            Rep. Robert Godshall (R-Montgomery), Majority Chair of the Committee, noted Pennsylvania is only one of two states in the country which does not regulate water well construction and indicated his support for the legislation.
            Bryan Swistock, Water Resources Extension Specialist, Penn State University, discussed various research projects Penn State has conducted on the subject of private water wells and explained their findings.
            "Private water wells are pervasive across the landscape of Pennsylvania serving as important sources of water for rural and suburban homes and farms," Swistock said. "The groundwater aquifers that they access are a shared resource that does not recognize political or property boundaries.
            "Our research has shown that inadequate water well construction is a contributing factor to the failure of some private water wells to meet safe drinking water standards in this state. This along with the fact that many health-related pollutants have no obvious symptoms in water, water well owners often do not adequately test their water supply, and those that do may not understand the water test results, leads to a significant potential health risk among the millions of rural residents, farmers and businesses that access the shared groundwater resources."
            Kelly Heffner, Deputy Secretary for Water Management for the Department of Environmental Protection, spoke in favor of the legislation. 
            "DEP believes that House Bill 1855 is a step in the right direction towards establishing statewide standards for water well construction," Heffner said. "This legislation does not give DEP or the Commonwealth the authority to charge a fee for private water usage; it does not give the power to install water meters on private wells; it does not grant the power for DEP or the Commonwealth to shut a person's well off or regulate the amount of water a private well owner can use." 
            She explained the legislation establishes the basis for water well construction standards to be developed through a public rulemaking process and identifies important standards that must be met such as: site selection, casing installation, grouting, disinfection and sampling and analysis.
            Heffner noted the bill also identifies the importance of decommissioning abandoned wells.
            Heffner emphasized "legislation that establishes water well construction standards, and raises the bar on the importance and competence of the professionals in the industry will help protect our valuable water resources for generations to come."
            Donald WagnerPA Council of Professional Geologists, emphasized the need for private water well construction regulations and highlighted several findings from a January 2009 study funded by the Center for Rural Pennsylvania of 622 homeowner wells:
-- Only 16 percent had a sanitary well cap to prevent the introduction of surface contaminants;
-- Roughly nine percent of the wells had missing well caps or miscellaneous types of caps; and
-- Only 18 percent were found to have cement or grout around the casing to prevent the introduction of surface contaminants.
            Wagner also offered recommendations for enhancing the legislation including the following:
-- The scope of House Bill 1855 should cover all private water wells the construction or decommissioning of which are not otherwise regulated under the authority of existing legislation;
-- House Bill 1855 should include a provision that the private well construction standards should be generally consistent with construction standards recommended by the National Ground Water Association; and
-- Well drilling and completions should be performed by a well drilling contractors licensed and registered in the Commonwealth.
            Bill ReichartPA Ground Water Association, expressed support for House Bill 1855 and offered recommendations for the resultant water resource protection regulations, including the following:
-- Creation of minimum state standards for location, inspection, construction, alteration, closure and decommissioning of water wells;
-- Establishment of criteria for proficiency-based licensure and certification of water well contractors and drillers;
-- Establishment of a State Board of Certification; and
-- Submission of water quality and well yield reports.
            Rep. Joseph Preston (D-Allegheny) serves as Minority Chair of the Committee.
            NewsClips: House Panel Considers Water Well Standards
                                Water Well Rules Proposed For Pennsylvania
                                House Bill Would Set Statewide Water Well Standards


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