Mapping Wells & Water Quality
Contributed by: Franklin Regional Council of Governments
Unlike many states, Massachusetts doesn't track the locations of private wells. This is especially important in Western Mass, since private wells supply drinking water for the majority of our residents. In fact, many towns rely 100% on private wells. Because there are no statewide private well regulations and no system for tracking private well locations and water quality, wells can (and do!) become contaminated through nearby septic systems, dumping, and pollutant storage.
The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection keeps track of public well locations, which is fine for the Eastern part of the state but doesn't provide Western Mass boards of health, planners, land conservation groups, real estate agents, and the general public with enough information about their own water supply. In fact, only about 5% of private wells (those drilled since 2006) are geolocated.
This lack of information has very real consequences for residents. For example, five wells in Leverett, MA are contaminated from an old town landfill; the recently-closed Northampton landfill caused groundwater contamination. Aside from the obvious health implications, there are financial costs as towns remediate the wells and property values are affected.
Can we develop an open source database that starts with the public well data from Massachusetts DEP and allows towns to augment that information with information about their private wells?
What a Solution Might Look Like
We're proposing a web/cloud-based database that uses existing technology (for example Google Spreadsheet Mapper 3). Ideally, towns could add private wells to the database using mobile/GPS technology. In addition to the location of a well, it would be useful to capture attributes that could be used to estimate the well's water quality and water usage. For example: water table, yield, type of rock, size of house, type of landscaping, agricultural use, and pumping rates. It would also be helpful for the database to capture photos, so the location and condition of each well can be documented visually.
We envision several uses for private well data, once it's captured:
- Mapping, so town planners know private well locations when they're siting new projects
- Exporting and combining with other data. For example, we could export a KML file to Google Earth and use it in conjunction with other geology-related layers to get a bigger picture of the region's water quality.
- Sending the information back to Massachusetts DEP (FRCOG has started this conversation).
FRCOG envisions maintaining oversight of this database while getting it into the hands of those who will populate it--towns. FRCOG has relationships with these towns and will help train them.
The target audience is local boards of health, local planning boards, regional planning agencies, Mass Department of Environment Protection, Mass Department of Public Health, land conservation groups, real estate agents, and the general public. This type of system has the potential to be useful not only in Western Mass, but throughout the state, nationally, and even internationally.
The data exists for some wells, going back to the 1970’s, and can be populated at Mass DEP upon request. For example, Glen Ayers from FRCOG has already completed Charlemont, Gill, and Buckland. FRCOG is working with Mass DEP to get this locally-sourced information fed back into state records.
Glen Ayers from Franklin Regional Council of Governments (and who has been instrumental in getting the state to make well data publicly available) can attend and participate in the hackathon.