Despite drought, area aquifer running strong

Published 9:08 am Tuesday, October 30, 2007

By Staff
PCS, Washington respond to water-consumption concerns
Staff Writer
The PCS Phosphate plant in Aurora pulls more water from the Castle Hayne Aquifer each day than the city of Raleigh used on an average day in August.
But company officials and an East Carolina University scientist say removing that amount, even in the face of a statewide drought, isn’t lowering the water source that also provides Washington’s drinking water.
PCS is permitted to remove 78 million gallons of water from the aquifer each day. It removes an average 68 million gallons per day, the vast majority of which is pumped directly into the Pamlico River, according to Ross Smith, manager of environmental affairs for PCS. By comparison, the entire City of Raleigh used an average 65 million gallons per day in August, according to a report by Raleigh CBS affiliate WRAL TV.
Dr. Richard Spruill, associate professor of hydrogeology in the Department of Geological Sciences at East Carolina University, has done research on the aquifer based on extensive daily monitoring of water levels by PCS.
Based on PCS monitoring, there has been no localized effect on water levels in the aquifer because of recent drought conditions, according to Smith.
The Castle Hayne Aquifer is a pressurized underground water source. PCS removes water from the aquifer to locally depressurize the groundwater so that it will not burst through the surface when overburden in removed during the mining process, Smith said.
To extract phosphate ore, PCS digs 130 feet down. The pit remains opening during mining, but is eventually filled back with soil. While it is open, wells surrounding the pit are constantly in use to keep water from filling the pit.
On Oct. 22, Gov. Mike Easley called for all state municipal water systems to stem usage by half before Halloween. He also asked for daily reports, to be submitted weekly to his office, detailing each system’s water usage. The data will be compiled into a statewide report after Halloween ranking the municipalities that have most successfully reduced their water consumption.
Adam Waters, superintendent of Washington’s water-resources, is attending a meeting regarding the governor’s Operation Halve-It today, but said Monday that the city “is not in as dire straits as the folks to the west of us.”
Washington draws about 2.5 million gallons of water from the aquifer each day to service about 10,000 customers and to sell to the county for its customers on the north side of the Pamlico River, Waters said. He echoed Smith and Spruill, saying that the Castle Hayne is a uniquely prolific and fast-recharging water source.