Mark A. S. McMenamin: ‘Expansion of gravel mining in the Dry Brook recharge area is a terrible idea’


Published: 1/18/2019 11:09:53 AM

On Jan. 14th, I spoke at the South Hadley Planning Board public hearing regarding a special permit application for gravel mining by Chicopee Concrete Services. This application seeks expansion of a gravel mining operation on Dry Brook Hill, between Route 47 and the Connecticut River. The area serves as recharge for the Dry Brook Aquifer, a well that provides water for South Hadley Water District 2. I write to alert the community to this potentially catastrophic threat to the water supply, and to respectfully urge the planning board to deny this special permit application.

The Dry Brook Aquifer provides remarkably pure water for the district. The aquifer results from a fortunate happenstance — an unusual case of localized gravel accumulation during deglaciation. The hydrogeology of the site is complex, but we can say that the localized nature of the well field glaciofluvial deposits implies a considerable risk of aquifer contamination. According to Jennie E. Donner’s report “Origin, Extent and Recharge of Dry Brook Aquifer, South Hadley, Massachusetts” (Honors Thesis, Mount Holyoke College), great caution is called for with regard to potential threats to the aquifer. Donner writes that in “order to ensure the quality of this water resource it is essential to protect all recharge areas.”

Hiring an independent hydrogeologist to report on the site (as is being considered by the Board) is not worth the time and expense involved. Any such study will be inconclusive due to the complexities of subsurface water flow in this singular situation. The only sure way to find out what will happen to the aquifer if, as proposed, millions of cubic feet of gravel are mined from Dry Brook Hill, is to run the “experiment.” This would be comparable to the global-warming “experiment” of releasing massive quantities of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Unlike the situation with global warming, however, with regard to the local case it is relatively easy to do the right thing.

Expansion of gravel mining in the Dry Brook recharge area is a terrible idea and could far too easily compromise the quality and safety of a critical natural resource. As Kate Ballantine pointed out at the public hearing, efforts at remediation of, say, a gasoline or oil spill in the recharge area would be expensive, difficult and quite possibly unsuccessful. This is not a risk worth assuming. If there ever was a reason to preserve a parcel of land, this is it. Doing so would protect a unique New England water resource — and avoid the risk of a nightmare contamination scenario.

Note: The hearing on this issue was placed on continuation; the next meeting is scheduled at the South Hadley Town Hall at 6:45 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 28, 2019.

Mark A. S. McMenamin, Professor of Geology, Mount Holyoke College
Former elected water commissioner, District 2, South Hadley

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