The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Local News

February 20, 2013

Township authority nixes Colver Dam drilling tests

EBENSBURG — The Cambria Township Water Authority unanimously declined the services of a surveying firm commissioned by the Northern Cambria Municipal Authority. The firm wanted to drill for a new, viable water source under the Colver Dam.

At a special meeting on Wednesday in the Cambria Township Municipal Building, authority members cited concerns about the integrity of the dam and its water, which supplies much of Cambria Township.

The Northern Cambria authority was ordered to drill for new water on

March 8, 2011, after a deep mine ground­water supply was contaminated by surface water intrusion. The contractors are already three months past the initial deadline set by the state Department of Environmental Protection to locate a replacement water source.

If a new source is not found by the recently extended deadline of April 1, the authority will be hit with a $500-per-day penalty fee.

Representatives from Hollidaysburg-based contracting firm Stiffler McGraw and the groundwater geology firm Casselberry & Associates of Boalsburg outlined their plans for the dam.

The team initially looked for sources in close proximity to the water treatment plant on the Spangler side of the merged borough. It was just a matter of finding a strong source that was nearby, but they never struck one.

“We were unable to find sufficient yield – enough water – to make this plan functional,” said John Clabaugh, senior project engineer for Stiffler McGraw. “As is the case with underground exploration, it doesn’t always work out how you’d like on the first try.

“Under threat of significant financial penalty, (Northern Cambria Municipal Authority has) been forced to broaden their search,” he said.

Jim Casselberry, a groundwater geologist for more than 30 years, said at the meeting that while Colver Dam wasn’t the most opportune location and would require a good deal of monitoring, he’s unsure about the other prospects.

Casselberry also said mine activity in the area greatly complicates the surveying work because mining leads to high levels of sulfates and aluminum, which ruins water supplies.

“The mines have caused subsidence fracturing to occur in the strata above the mine, and it’s dropped the groundwater in the near-surface aquifer down into the mine,” he said. “Once it’s in the mine, it’s contaminated to the extent that we can’t use it and it can’t be filtered.

“We don’t have any surface water high in quality and large in volume that can be filtered either, so, we’re stuck with groundwater.”

Eminent domain laws allow the contractors to seek permission to drill from a private property owner.

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