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Wales board gets sprinkling of groundwater data

Members of a group tasked with protecting the water supply in the Town of Wales are wading through information that will eventually help produce changes to town codes.

Wales is the only municipality in Erie County that relies solely on groundwater for its potable water, so protecting the resource is a high priority in the town.

The committee reached out to Steven Winkley and the New York Rural Water Association, which collected well and groundwater data from residents.

Councilwoman Jude Hartrich relayed the study’s results to the Town Board during its meeting Tuesday.

The information shows that some wells in town produce strong water flow, up to 40 gallons per minute, but others offer less than one gallon per minute.

Three aquifers – pockets of underground water, mostly in sand and gravel deposits – have been identified for protection under a proposed unconsolidated aquifer protection overlay district.

An overlay district would establish additional or stricter standards and criteria for property it encompasses in addition to those of the underlying district.

“It’s not to make the zoning more restrictive,” Hartrich said, “it’s to add a layer of caution.”

The largest aquifer essentially consists of a strip of land averaging about one mile wide straddling Buffalo Creek, which flows from the southeast corner of the town toward the northwest on its way to Lake Erie.

Smaller aquifers exist along Hunters Creek in the south-central portion of Wales, and along Cazenovia Creek in the far southwest corner of the town.

Noting that significant portions of the aquifers fall into the town’s business zone, Winkley suggested restrictions that won’t harm existing businesses but would prohibit certain activities, such as storing hazardous or toxic substances.

“I think (that) approach might be more effective in Wales, and have a greater chance of being enacted,” Winkley wrote.

The study shows that most of Wales’ residents live outside the proposed district, so to protect their water supply Winkley suggests some of his proposed overlay prohibitions should be applied to the entire town.

In the alternative, “we could extend the special use permit standards townwide,” Winkley reported.

Hartrich said she plans to meet with the town zoning and planning boards to solicit advice from them before proposing changes to the Town Board.

Despite the proximity of many wells to the largest aquifer, some of them are low-flowing which Hartrich said is likely due to the age and construction of those wells.

“There are a lot of old farms in the area where the wells were dug by hand or basic machines and those wells are shallow,” Hartrich explained. “The newer wells have good-sized casings and were built with pile drivers.”

Residents who don’t live on or near an aquifer rely mostly on groundwater as their source, although there are several springs that run through the town.

In terms of development, the town’s wells average less than five gallons per minute, which is below the threshold required by the Erie County Health Department for building homes.

“It all depends on where you dig and how deep,” Hartrich said. “There are an awful lot of good wells out there.”

Hartrich said Winkley will return to Wales in May to submit a final report and help th town council decide how it wants to move forward.