Allendale Twp. bans new well water developments

Ottawa County

ALLENDALE TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — Allendale Township leaders have banned new developments unless the residents plan to connect to municipal water lines.

“We’re pulling water out of the ground faster than it can refresh,” Township Supervisor Adam Elenbaas said.

Last week’s vote from the township board came on the heels of a comprehensive study (PDF) by Michigan State University.

“Now that we have a study in front of us that says this is a very serious issue, we need to be taking proactive steps,” Elenbaas said.

In 2011, MSU began studying the aquifer that feeds 3,000 private household wells in central Ottawa County. Researchers found the water level in the aquifer known as the Marshall Formation had dropped 40 feet over 40 years.

The underground bed has a thick layer of clay on top of it that prevents water from returning to the aquifer beneath.

“The surface water doesn’t penetrate through that layer to make it back to the deep aquifer so the surface water isn’t recharging the wells underneath,” Elenbaas explained.

Steve Smoes was the first to move in to the Highland Trails subdivision, which went in near 68th Avenue and Warner Street in the early 2000s. Five years later, neighbors started noticing irregularities in pressure, water surging and sputtering out of faucets.

“We right away started thinking home values,” Smoes recalled. “How are we going to sell our homes? How are we going to survive out there? Where do we get water for daily use?”

The neighborhood association put a moratorium on watering lawns for a summer, Smoes had to lower his pump 40 feet and another resident had to dig a new well. Allendale Township ultimately ran municipal water lines out to Highland Trails, but Smoes doesn’t take water for granted anymore. Neither do township leaders.

“We know at this point that the water levels are going down rather than up,” Elenbaas said.

“We know we’re drawing out faster than we’re replenishing,” he continued. “But we don’t know that there’s a specific date at which point the wells are going to run dry. Rather than waiting until an emergency happens and we have to run water to remote locations in an emergency situation we’re planning for that now. We’re being proactive.”

While Allendale, Olive, Robinson and Blendon townships are most impacted by the aquifer’s water level drop, six other townships also pull from the Mashall Formation: Crockery, Polkton, Tallmadge, Zeeland, Holland and Jamestown.

Of an estimated 104,000 households in Ottawa County, approximately 27,000 are on private wells. Of those, around 3,000 draw from the Marshall Formation aquifer.  

By spring 2019, Ottawa County plans to release a Solutions and Strategies Guidebook for Groundwater Management. It will lay out options for water conversation and management going forward, allowing individual townships to choose methods best suited for their particular geology, development and existing infrastructure. 

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