By Karen Cimms, kcimms@tnonline.com
The Times News, © 1999

September 20, 1999

LeRoy Skinner and Frank Waksmunski would like to become guardians of Carbon County’s groundwater.

The pair, a high school science teacher and a retired chemist, are teaming up with other concerned citizens and officials in the county in an attempt to qualify Carbon County as a Groundwater Guardian Community. Their goal is to develop a long-term plan to monitor well water in the county, identify potential problems and prescribe appropriate action.

The Groundwater Foundation, dedicated to the preservation of the world’s groundwater, encourages and supports communities which are trying to protect their groundwater by helping them raise awareness, provide information and resources, and develop solutions.

Waksmunski’s interest in groundwater piqued when he moved to Towamensing Township a year and a half ago from New Jersey, where the water supplied to his home had always come from a municipal water source. Here, he has a well.

He was dismayed to learn that when private wells are tested before purchasing a home, the standard test usually includes a test for E. coli bacteria and fecal coliform bacteria, and that is all. He wondered about other possible contaminants in his water, but discovered testing for other possibilities would be expensive, time consuming, and more than likely, delay the closing on his house. He was told most people don’t have the time or money to thoroughly test their well water.

Waksmunski met Skinner during Earth Week last year when he volunteered to help Skinner and his class monitor water in the Silk Run, behind the Jim Thorpe High School.

Discovering a common interest in ground water, the two met to discuss becoming a Groundwater Guardian Community.

Skinner has been a teacher for 27 years, and has been involved in water testing for over 10 years. The fledgling group held its second meeting earlier this month, and was delighted with the response. Nearly 20 people were on hand including municipal, county and state officials, educators, environmentalists in addition to concerned citizens.

Edith Stevens, editor of Water Policy News, a newsletter published by the Pennsylvania League of Women Voters Citizen Education Fund, was an invited speaker at the most recent meeting. Ms. Stevens made the group aware of grants of up to $3,000, available through the League of Women Voters, for community education. She also spoke about DEP grants available for various water supply studies. Skinner and Waksmunski would like to make well testing affordable and accessible to all county residents by having high school seniors in environmental science classes conduct the testing.

Stevens suggested Skinner try to get the program off the ground by starting a pilot program in the Jim Thorpe School District and see how that goes before trying to go countywide.

In looking for potential groundwater problems, Stevens pointed out to the group that most well problems start from a nearby septic system or from what is spread on area vegetation. Heavy concentration of nitrates in water is usually the result of a large animal agricultural area, but since Carbon County is home to only 844 dairy cows, according to Paul Shealer from the Penn State Cooperative Extension office, that risk is very low. Herbicides in well water would be more common, but also in very low levels because the county is not an intensive agricultural area. “The amount of agricultural impact on the county is not high enough to create groundwater problems,” said Shealer. The Carbon County Groundwater Guardians will meet again at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 6, at the Emergency Management Agency offices in Nesquehoning.