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Adaptation needed to conserve county's groundwater

Tribune Staff • May 6, 2019 at 3:00 PM

West Michigan is about as far as you can get from an arid wasteland, but residents in Ottawa County are turning on the tap to discover their wells have run dry.

Ottawa County officials are promoting water conservation to solve a groundwater shortage. We urge residents to do their small part to protect our county’s valuable resource, beginning in the garden this spring.

The problem is the county’s unique geology. A layer of clay separates the shallow aquifer from the deep Marshall Formation, from which many residents draw drinking water. The clay is causing the Marshall to recharge too slowly to support those who rely on it.

Farmers have wound up with burned crops, while residents have found salty water coming out of the tap — or nothing at all.

This is a unique problem for Ottawa County; nowhere else in West Michigan is anyone dealing with this.

Extending municipal water infrastructure to rural residents is not feasible. Paul Sachs, the county’s director of Planning and Performance Improvement, said changes in residents’ daily routines are needed as this problem gets worse. He admits it’s no easy task to change human behavior, but the only option is adaptation.

It may seem abstract doing your part to recharge a massive geological formation deep in the earth, but the solution is found in numerous small actions. No doubt you’ve heard of some of these before: Limit showers to five minutes. Turn the faucet off when brushing your teeth. Fill the dishwasher and washing machine completely before running a load.

When landscaping this spring, plant natural vegetation that doesn’t require constant watering. Only water your lawn when it’s not raining. Rain sensors are an inexpensive option to make sure you don’t overwater.

How much water you use may surprise you. Here’s an online calculator to determine how much water you consume: www.watercalculator.org.

Businesses need to do their part, too. The county is urging organizations to consider natural grasses and plants in future landscaping, and use porous materials rather than solid concrete to allow for water to reach the aquifer.

The county is exploring requirements for new developments to ensure they hook up to municipal water when possible. Allendale Township has already denied a development that wanted to rely on groundwater. The county is also working with the Ottawa Area Intermediate School District to build curriculum around this issue.

We all hear about persistent droughts and rampant wildfires Out West, while in Michigan we have always had the luxury of taking our water for granted. Continuing to do so could turn a renewable resource into a serious scarcity.

Our Views reflects the majority opinion of the members of the Grand Haven Tribune editorial board: Kevin Hook, Matt DeYoung, Mark Brooky, Duncan MacLean and Alexander Sinn. What do you think? E-mail us a letter to the editor to [email protected] or log-in to our website and leave a comment below.

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