County readies for groundwater regs

A new set of groundwater protection regulations came before Sussex County Council members at the Jan. 24 council meeting — they’re state-mandated, but the council will have the opportunity to fine-tune the regulations.

The county won’t be able to create ordinances to enforce those regulations without some technical assistance, though. Staff shopped for an outside engineering firm to help with that, and eventually settled on Duffield Associates — Planning and Zoning (P&Z) Director Lawrence Lank presented the contract on Jan. 24.

Council eventually deferred contract acceptance for another week, but once they do offer final approval, Duffield will assist a council-appointed committee in preparing those new ordinances.

Duffield President Jeff Bross anticipated four committee meetings and two public hearings ought to do it, and County Administrator Bob Stickels noted the contract’s $24,500 “upset limit.”

Stickels asked that each council member appoint one or two private citizens to the committee, and one or two council members may sit on the committee themselves.

Council Member Lynn Rogers anticipated controversy.

“I know what the farming community did the last time someone said ‘wellhead protection,’” he pointed out.

However, as Bross clarified, the state is most concerned with public supply wellheads — wells serving more than 2,000 people. Most of these fall under municipal jurisdiction, although some are located outside town borders, in county lands.

The regulations would also govern “resource protection areas” and “recharge areas.”

As Duffield geologist Steven Smailer explained, the better the drainage, the greater the need for environmental protection. The county would need to institute the more stringent regulations in the sandy places the state has identified as excellent recharge areas, he pointed out.

“So — more regulations,” Council Member Vance Phillips groused. “Is not regulating an option?” He noted excellent recharge areas in his district, and questioned how the new laws might impact property owners in those areas.

And Sussex is hardly an arid county, Phillips pointed out, so regulatory elements aimed at making sure the aquifer won’t run dry won’t necessarily be appropriate here.

Bross assured him there are ways to accommodate both development and recharge. “Some will say, ‘We’re going to use this to shut down development’; other people will be totally opposed because they’ll say it’s going to do that,” he predicted. “Clearly, you’re going to have to base your decisions on science, economics and public input.”

Bross did agree with Phillips that Sussex is “blessed” with good water, at least for the foreseeable future. “You don’t necessarily have to overlay the whole thing (the state regulations),” he said. “We’re going to kind of cut from whole cloth.”