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Wells won't cause sinkholes, Clearwater officials tell City Council

CLEARWATER — Does the city really need more deep water wells? And do so many of them need to be in Countryside?

Reacting to residents' fears of sinkholes and dried-up ponds, the City Council fired questions at Clearwater officials Monday about their plan to drill 13 new wells to pump drinking water from underground.

The council sought assurances that the wells won't inflict environmental damage or cause problems for homeowners who depend on their own residential wells.

And council member Carlen Petersen, who's been hearing complaints from her neighbors in the Countryside area, requested that fewer wells be drilled there.

Faced with these questions, city water managers responded with a detailed scientific defense of their plan. They are certain that the new wells won't lead to sinkholes, a lowered water table or saltwater intrusion into the aquifer.

Most council members seemed satisfied with the explanations and didn't appear inclined to demand any changes to the plan. But Petersen put the subject on the agenda for Thursday night's council meeting so residents can voice their concerns at City Hall.

"I just hope that we can debunk some of the issues," said Mayor Frank Hibbard, who recalled that residents had similar worries when the city unveiled plans for a reverse-osmosis water treatment plant in 2001.

Here are officials' answers to some of the council's questions Monday:

Dry wells: Robert Fahey, Clearwater's utilities engineering manager, said the new wells won't pose a threat to residential wells, which get their water from the surficial aquifer, the topmost layer of water beneath the surface. In contrast, the city's wells draw water from the Floridan Aquifer, which is much deeper. The uppermost layer of water gets recharged by rainfall, so the city wells won't affect it.

Sinkholes: They occur when underground limestone collapses because of fluctuations in the water table. But Clearwater's thick underground layer of clay prevents that problem, said David Wylie, a geologist doing consultant work for the city. In past cases where water pumping led to sinkholes, it was because water managers pumped huge quantities from a particular well, he said.

Why Countryside? Although the 13 proposed wells are scattered around the city, six are clustered in the Countryside area. Some of the project's most vocal opponents are homeowners in the Northwood West neighborhood who feel they're in the bull's-eye.

But that's where the water is, officials say. "We've spaced out our wells in and amongst where the freshwater source is," Fahey said.

The city will rotate the wells and won't run them all at once, Wylie said.

Clearwater currently has 19 deep water wells. At one time, it had 79 wells, but 60 had to be abandoned because they were too close to the Pinellas coastline, said public utilities director Tracy Mercer.

Mike Brassfield can be reached at brassfield@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4160.

Wells won't cause sinkholes, Clearwater officials tell City Council 06/01/09 [Last modified: Monday, June 1, 2009 7:51pm]
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