Program to improve state’s monitoring of ground water

07 18, 2012 by The Advocate

A new program by the state Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Geological Survey will more than double the number of wells in the state’s ground water program by the end of the year, officials say.

DNR announced earlier this month a three-year, $2.7 million program to beef up the state’s ground water monitoring for water quality, as well as quantity.

“Effective management of our ground water is a critical issue in our state, where it supplies half of our drinking water and more than two-thirds of our agricultural water demand,” DNR Secretary Scott Angelle said in a news release. “The most basic and crucial aspect of managing any resource is the ability to monitor it accurately, and using the best scientific tools to appropriately manage our groundwater is the most intelligent approach.”

The need for more ground water monitoring was outlined in an interim report by the state Water Resources Commission to the Louisiana Legislature.

“The data gathered from any increased monitoring project may be used to determine if more frequent or extensive water withdrawal reporting may need to be required for certain users and/or in certain areas,” according to the report.

About 200 wells are used for groundwater monitoring around the state, said George Arcement Jr., director of the USGS Water Science Center in Baton Rouge. The new program will bring another 200 wells into that program, which will bring the program back to the number it had before budget cuts in the mid 1980s forced a reduction in the number, he said.

No new wells will be drilled, he said. Instead, staff will determine where additional monitoring is needed, find existing wells in that area and work with the owners to get permission to include them for monitoring, Acrement said.

John Lovelace, assistant director of the USGS Water Science Center, said there are areas of the state where information about ground water is fairly thin and “this will help fill in those gaps.”

The expanded program includes the addition of 50 wells to be tested for chlorides, which is an indication of saltwater intrusion into a groundwater aquifer, Arcement said. That will double the number of wells monitored for chlorides in the state.

“The chloride monitoring, that network is really threadbare in the state,” Lovelace said.

In addition, the program will add 100 wells that will monitor for water quality in areas of the state where there is hydraulic fracturing going on, he said. Hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas involves drilling into a layer of shale and then drilling horizontally across the shale.

A liquid of water and chemicals are forced into this horizontal portion to crack the shale which allows oil or gas to be collected. Residents living near hydraulic fracturing operations around the country and environmental groups have expressed concern that this process can contaminate ground water.