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Wells run dry in Codroy Valley, residents believe Emera construction a factor


Emera says Maritime Link work would have no impact on groundwater

MACDOUGALLS, NL – Dozens of homes and cottages are currently without water after wells have mysteriously gone dry.

The problem is not limited to one area but several along the Trans-Canada Highway as it enters the Codroy Valley area from Port aux Basques.

Residents from MacDougalls Gulch, Paradise Park and Red Bucket Road recently discovered just how widespread the problem has become and have been venting their frustrations to each other and on social media.

“I just assumed the well went dry,” says Kim Lambert. “I thought it was just me.”

Lambert first started experiencing problems with her well on Oct. 7, and even borrowed a neighbour’s hose to extinguish a campfire. That well also went dry after two or three minutes.

“It was like a layer of soft mud,” said Lambert of her effort just to flush her toilet. “We just want answers.”

Lambert usually lives at her cottage in MacDougalls Gulch until the end November, but was forced to return to Port aux Basques a good six to eight weeks earlier than usual because of the sudden lack of water.

Eventually word got around that the problem was more widespread, and after speaking with other owners in person and online Lambert now estimates between 30 and 40 wells have gone dry.

“We don’t have water issues,” said Pat Mauger. “We had perfect water.”

The reason for that perfect water is the mountain run off, which is naturally filtered and stored in the numerous bogs in and around the cabin areas, she said.

She and husband Art have been living on Bill Barry’s Road near MacDougalls Gulch for almost two decades, and their well pre-dates their house by a good 10 years and has never gone dry. The couple was away moose hunting and came home to no water issues until Oct. 22.

Like other residents, the Maugers believe Emera’s work on the Maritime Link might be responsible. Gravel roads leading to homes and cabins have been extended well beyond their original length to where the transmission towers are being erected at the base of the Long Range Mountains.

The constant movement of heavy trucks and large equipment not far from the wells and bogs had only been perceived as a tolerable nuisance up until now.

“It was a Sunday morning and I was sitting out on my deck,” recalls Pat.

The deck vibrated so hard beneath her feet that initially Pat believed she was experiencing a medical problem rather than the earth shaking.

“It scared me. That was 8 o’clock in the morning and 2:30 that afternoon our water was gone completely.”

Emera says no effect

Many have contacted Emera with their concerns. The company sent an environmentalist out to take a look and does not believe its work in the area is to blame.

Emera issued a statement on the findings to The Gulf News.

“Emera was recently contacted by individuals in the MacDougalls area who reported experiencing lower-than-normal well water levels. While there may be noise which sounds like quarry blasting, it is not. The work is associated with Maritime Link transmission wires being joined in the air, about 25-30 meters above ground. It is not in-the-ground blasting and would have no effect on groundwater levels.

“We did reach out to the Department of Municipal Affairs, who confirmed reports of many wells across the province experiencing a lack of water recharge as a result of low precipitation levels over the summer months,” the statement continued. “We remain open to any feedback or comments from our project neighbours and residents in the area.”

Residents outright refute any notion that a dry summer might have caused the problem.

“I don’t think we’ve had an exceptionally dry year,” said Art, who is a salmon fisherman. “Around the rest of the island there were rivers closed down because of the water levels. South Branch River wasn’t.”

In fact, Codroy Valley’s rivers remained steady and open even when others were shut down, and only closed when government shut down the provincial salmon season early.

Recent heavy rains have not replenished any of the affected wells, but now there’s a pond in the middle of a nearby ATV/walking trail where one has never been before.

“I’m dying to know where that water is coming from out there,” said Pat. “Haven’t seen it in all the years we’ve been here.”

A ditch that runs alongside Bill Barry’s Road in front of their cabin has gone dry, which is also highly unusual, said Pat. There’s usually so much water in that creek that it ices over in the winter.

Puzzling

Scott Gale is a driller in Corner Brook who grew up in the Codroy area.

“I could understand two or three wells, maybe a few more,” he said via phone interview.

He is also puzzled that the wells haven’t recovered, which they should have done even if there has been a dry spell.

“Normally wells that have been there that long I can understand drying up for a short period of time.”

Just a few minutes up the TCH on the opposite side of the highway in Paradise Park, Debbie Richards and John Morgan are experiencing the same problem. Like the Maugers, the couple lives in the Codroy area year-round.

“There’s one house down below (us). They lost their water too,” said Richards.

The couple lost their water last month, but initially blamed their pump. Morgan also believes the Emera construction has played a part in the area’s water woes.

“I do believe the water table has shifted because of it. People with artesian wells have lost it, and that’s the first I’ve heard of it.”

Richards and Morgan have a shallow dug well. Most of wells affected are between 15 and 20 feet deep, but an artesian well typically extends much deeper – over 100 feet – and collects confined groundwater from rock.

“Hopefully by early December we’re going to get an artesian well, which is $10,000,” said Morgan, who hopes that will solve their water shortage.

Water table

John Gale of Formation Drilling is a hydro-geologist who taught at Memorial University of Newfoundland for 26 years.

He also spoke to the Gulf News about the water situation.

“It depends on the water table. Normally a water table comes up in the fall,” said Gale, who originally hails from Cape Anguille and is familiar with the Codroy area.

He also thinks the wells should have recovered naturally from any dry spell by now, and that 15 feet is more than adequate for a dug well.

Whether or not the Emera construction air shocks have played a role is hard to say without proper testing, he said.

“Vibration will change the permeability,” noted Gale, who has had to construct roads across bogs in the past. “We don’t destroy the bog itself. There are ways to do it.”

Whatever the cause, fixing water issues for so many residents is not likely to be simple. Gale advises residents to work as a group to conduct proper testing of their own and proceed from there.

“It’s not one solution fits all sort of thing,” cautioned Gale.

Most residents have resorted to rain barrels and hauling in truckloads of water buckets. But there are bigger problems than just hauling in water to do a load of laundry or take a shower – the threat of fire is now far more worrisome.

“We had to be within so many feet of water,” said Lambert about qualifying for fire insurance. “What’s this going to do to affect us? We got no water. What are we going to do?”

“If I had a fire here, up until now they could have come and stuck their hose right in the well and operated the pumper truck,” said Art.

Right now, the closest water source in the event of a fire is the ocean, which is on the other side of the TCH.

“We may as well just walk out. Just get in the truck and say bye. You may as well because they’re (firefighters) not getting any water here,” said a frustrated Pat, who noted that some summer-only residents may not even be aware they have a water problem and might not realize it before they return next spring.

“We’re not cabin people. We live here. This is home.”

Rosalyn.roy@gulfnews.ca

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