Forum to examine water supply threats to public well water

Wednesday, October 3, 2001

Staff Writer

Environmental watchdogs for years have raised alarms about gasoline leaks, industrial discharges, and other pollution that taints water supplies.
In the wake of last month's terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, those watchdogs are raising a new warning about possible sabotage of water systems.

Although water utilities maintain that the large volume in reservoirs and chlorine treatment of drinking water would likely foil any terrorist attempts, environmental activists believe wells are vulnerable.

"Public wells are basically unprotected," Ella Filippone, executive administrator of the Passaic River Coalition, said Tuesday. "One of the beneficial things that might come out of this tragedy is that we get some security."

Filippone noted that many North Jersey communities get all or a large portion of their drinking water from wells.

State officials maintain that the diversity of water sources and the design of enclosed and sealed well pumps are sufficient deterrents to sabotage.

Water supply experts have been asked to address the possible threat of a terrorist attack, as well as ongoing efforts to protect well water from everyday pollution, at a public forum Thursday in East Hanover.

Billed as the Second Annual Ground Water Summit, the forum is focused on protective measures within the Passaic River basin, which encompasses a network of rivers and aquifers supplying reservoirs and wells in Morris, Passaic, Bergen, Essex, and several neighboring counties.

The event is at the Hanover Manor, 15 Eagle Rock Ave., from 8:30 a.m. to noon. Registration is required for the free event, which includes a buffet breakfast, by calling the Passaic River Coalition at (908) 766-7550.

Other topics at the forum, hosted by the Passaic Valley Ground Water Protection Committee, include presentations on a municipal well-head protection program and updates by state environmental and U.S. Geological Survey representatives on mapping wells, known sources of potential pollution, and protection zones.

State officials say that a terrorist threat to New Jersey's 350,000 private wells, serving 1 million people, and public well systems serving about 2 million people, is remote.

One reason is that there are so many wells. Another reason is that many communities use both well water and reservoir water and can shut down a polluted well and purchase more water from a reservoir system.

A third reason is that public wells are designed to keep out pollution, said Loretta O'Donnell, a Department of Environmental Protection spokeswoman.

"All public Community Water System wells must either be housed or fenced in," O'Donnell said. "There is no easy access to well heads. Vents are protected. The top is protected from intrusion. We want to make sure no surface water can leak into the well, which also protects it from other intrusion."

Furthermore, she said, wells "produce relatively small amounts of water. Therefore, to get much water you need lots of wells. One or two wells could always be taken out of service if there is a problem and the system could still operate."

Staff Writer Jan Barry's e-mail address is

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