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Delaware’s water supply looks A-OK for 2015

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By Kathy Canavan

While the water woes of western states are making news, Delaware’s water supply looks good, at least for 2015.

There are no drought concerns in any of the three counties at the moment, a Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) official said. Flow in streams is good.

Precipitation has been above normal. The winter snowfall was good. Groundwater levels are good up and down the state.

One reason: While California’s water dilemma was making headlines, Delaware water companies and state officials were quietly making improvements to the state’s water system.

The Water Supply Coordinating Council, formed after the droughts of 1995, 1999, and 2002, has been manicuring the infrastructure since 2004. The council is authorized until January 2016.

The members, a mix of industry representatives and government officials from agencies ranging from the Delaware Geological Survey to the Delaware Emergency Management Agency, have been instrumental in helping small towns fix leaks from aging systems, searching for new aquifers, increasing the capacity of Hoopes Reservoir, helping Newark get its new reservoir, pushing conservation with better plumbing and connecting local water systems in case of emergency.

John T. Barndt, program manager for DNREC’s water-supply section, said that all paid off last year when New Castle’s water supply became contaminated and officials were able to supplement the supply with water from Artesian Water Company.

Barndt said New Castle County uses surface water from rivers and creeks, but most of southern Delaware uses groundwater. “When we have a drought, New Castle County is the first to be hit, because we really use a lot of surface water and half of the population is up there,” he said. “Droughts are a natural part of the climate cycle. We will absolutely have droughts at some time again, but we’ve tried to take steps to prepare for them because we know we’ve had them in the past and we’ll have them in the future.”

Barndt credited the water supply council with improving the outlook for Delaware. “We’re in a much better place than we were before those droughts,” he said.

Residents use just under 32 percent of Delaware’s water. Industry uses about 33 percent, and almost 35 percent is used to irrigate agricultural products. Industrial use will likely increase because energy producers moving into the state will require more water to cool the machinery they use to convert natural gas to electricity.

As water awareness has grown, Delaware industries are using a variety of technologies to capture runoff and also to capture wastewater and remove contaminants so that highly treated clean water can be percolated back into the ground rather than dumping contaminated water into the inland bays.

As sea level rises, water scientists are working to keep saltwater from encroaching on freshwater inlets. “It’s already been a problem, and it can become more of a problem as sea level rises because that saltwater could work its way up from Delaware Bay,” Barndt said.

United Water Delaware has a rubber dam it can inflate if a salt front starts working its way up the Delaware or Christina River, Barndt said. It helps pool the freshwater coming downstream and stop the saltwater from coming up,” he said.

More good news for this year: Barndt said scientists have marked out how far saltwater has moved up the Delaware. This year, it hasn’t risen. ♦

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