New well serves double dutySecures island's water supply and sits on conserved land
It doesn’t look like much at first.
Just a new wellhead, sticking out of the ground, something you’d never run across unless by accident or if you were deliberately looking for it.
But in fact, this new well, well number four, is the result of a remarkable string of events and cooperation among a variety of state agencies that Block Island Water Company Superintendent John Breunig said has not only resulted in a more secure water supply for New Shoreham, but also managed to conserve more than four acres of land on the island.
The well went online and pumped its first gallons on Friday, Aug. 8.
Bruenig said the island has operated on two wells for years. “We need both those wells. When you lose one, it becomes very stressful” for the system, said Breunig. Both wells — named wells five and six — operate at full capacity during the summer, when water usage is at its highest.
The reason that the number of the new is four (rather than seven) is that the original well number four is an old, inactive well and “efforts to rehabilitate it didn’t work. It didn’t have the proper setbacks and easements to be grandfathered in,” said Breunig.
So, when the new well was being dug, it was christened well number four.
According to a timeline that Breunig created for the project, in the summer of 2009 the R.I. State Properties Committee approved $9.1 million in bond issues (which had been earlier approved by the voters) for the purpose of purchasing undeveloped land around drinking water wells and for potential new sites in Washington County. “For wellhead protection,” was how Breunig put it. By October of that year, a team had been formed to look for potential sites that met the criteria set by the Water Resources Board (WRB). That team included Breunig, Dave Simmons, Dan Lewis and Heidi Tarbox.
Over the winter, the Water Company received approval for its grant/loan application from the United States Department of Agriculture.
The 4.6 acre parcel where the well is located was purchased by the state, and “the state came out and said we’ll drill you an 8-inch production well,” said Breunig. “We didn’t have to pay for the land.” New setbacks for the well required a 400-foot radius. The 4.6 acres of land around the new well number four is still owned by the state and the town has a long-term lease on it that must be renewed every 10 years, Breunig said.
Well number four is 256-feet deep and sits at about 120 feet above sea level — the wells on Block Island are affected by the tide — and can pump 250 gallons a minute, The water is also considered “brackish,” which means it is a mix of fresh and salt water. The water is transported through 1,200 feet of pipe to the treatment facility.
All in all, after all the permits were received, water and soil tests completed, contracts signed, contractors approved, and an archaeological survey completed by the Rhode Island Historical Preservation and the Conservation Commission (no artifacts were found in the area), and zoning variances, the project took about five years to complete.
Breunig said the new well is not pumping more water. “We’re not taking more water because we have a new well,” he said. “This is about efficiency, redundancy and security.” The existing wells have broken down in the past, Breunig said, but now there is a new backup if that happens.
In the end, of all the projects started at the same time, Breunig said the Block Island well was the only one completed. It’s working, and sits on more than four acres of conserved land.
“It took a lot of effort by a lot of people,” Breunig said. “We just tried to do something good for the island.”