Another Perspective on the Fisher Water Harvesting Project

There have been several recent articles in the Post by on the Fisher Water Project that have discussed  watershed management issues of great importance to all of us in the Township. Like Mr. Hinesley, I would like to give you my perspective on this project. I too wear many hats and want to acknowledge my relationships to the applicant right at the start. First and foremost I am a friend of Charlie Fishers and have been close to the family since I started singing in the junior choir at the Methodist Church under the direction of Harriet Fisher 55 years ago. I live on a preserved family farm in the Township. I am also very involved with watershed management in Delaware Township as a member of the Environmental Commission, the Stormwater Committee, the Road and Bridge Committee and as an advisor to the Planning Board.

When Charlie Fisher first started this application almost 10 years ago, the Township had no well testing ordinance and little data concerning groundwater and DEP had been almost rubber-stamping water extraction applications. I was very worried and concerned about this project when I first heard about it and approached the applicant with many questions. Charlie urged me to review all the available information, which I did and have since followed it closely over the intervening years. I met with Vince Uhl, the applicants hydrologist, on site and reviewed his data sheets periodically in the field during the monitoring period. I also met with Lou Cattuna from DEP on site to discuss my concerns for wetlands preservation and management. I contacted the New Jersey Water Supply Authority about the importance of Cold Run and Rose Brook to maintaining baseflow in the Wickecheoke. I am also very familiar with the monitoring report by the NJWSA referred to by Gary Hinesley.

Much has changed over the 10 years of this application. The applicant, reduced the amount of water requested, based on early monitoring and his desire to be very conservative about sustainable yields.  DEP spent over 7 years evaluating this project and asked for additional review by NJ Geological Survey. Pass through base flow requirements are in place to protect stream baseflow during dry periods. This will be the first project in the State to use this design. And the Township now has a well protection ordinance.

It should be clarified that the applicant did not request to be exempt from this well test but proposed initially to complete the test after approval by the ZBA which is usually given conditionally based on passing the well test. To my knowledge this is the only project where the Zoning Board decided to request this data prior to approval in lieu of approving conditional upon the well test.

Gary Hinesley did a very complete job of summarizing the questions and concerns stated at the Zoning Board of Adjustment meeting on June 11th by Mr. Hornby’s attorney, Mr. Lanza. I would however like to add to that summaries of the primary testimony given by the experts at that meeting.

Concerning water, Matt Mulhall, the Townships hydrologist, confirmed that the well tests showed no impact to surrounding residential wells or the DTMUA wells. The tests also showed   no impact on streamflow from pumping at the test well as well as no impact to the shallow water wetlands between the well and the stream.

There are some misstatements in the article.  The article questions the math concerning baseflow, wondering how you could “have a stream running at five gallons per minute, take away thirty and leave three” and later refers to pumps that would have “to bring 43,200 gallons water from the stream , through the spring boxes….”.  For starters, no water is being taken from the stream, nor are these two springs the only source of water to the stream. In the applicants proposal the two springs are equipped with pass through devices that ensure that from each of the springs that no less 3gpm are discharged to the stream/wetland complex before any is allowed to overflow into the spring box. Water is not pumped to the spring box but reaches there by gravity flow. If during dry periods there is insufficient water to  maintain 30 gpm overflow to the spring box, then water is pumped from the back-up well rather than taken from the low flow from the spring. It is true that water harvested does require pumping uphill to the silos. I am sure the applicant would prefer silos downslope except for the fact that wetlands prevent using that area.  The well tests included an evaluation of the potential impacts to the wetlands as well as the owners and other peoples wells. Gary notes that Betsy MacKenzie asked if well water would be pumped to maintain base flow of the creek in the event the flow falls below 3gpm for either spring. This is an option that has not been evaluated in any way during this regulatory period and I would strongly advise against such a proposal which is difficult to justify for any reason. Pumping groundwater to support surface water is almost always a bad idea in terms of sustainability and I do not think the Township has the authority to divert water for this purpose. Matt Mulhall also recommended against such a solution. It is also important to remember that there are at least two other springs on the applicants property as well as additional springs to Cold Run on the Johnson and Bacon properties just downstream from  the Fisher Farm that contribute to the creek flow.

Matt Mulhall noted that he had narrowed his evaluation of the water available on this site to the amount of water replenished naturally on the 139 acres of land preserved by the Fishers contiguous to this project and part of the original farm. No other project in the Township is subjected to a test of water recharge. According to the most recent studies, all of the homes on argillite on less than about 13 acres and all homes elsewhere in the Township on less than 6 acres (including most of the towns of Sergeanstville and Rosemont) use more water than is recharged on their sites. This problem is at the root of current rezoning evaluations. This project meets a standard that the Township is considering imposing on other development in the Township. In this regard it is a model for future water management projects for the Township.

Concerning traffic, the Township traffic engineer confirmed that there will be no significant or detrimental impacts to local traffic. And despite all the confusing questions about truck weight and size, it should be noted that the applicants drawings have the correct weight and size of the trucks, fully loaded. The traffic engineer also noted that peak traffic from a working farm is estimated at over 200 vehicles a day during peak season, though only a few, such as milk trucks , would be 18 wheelers.

Over the past 25 years I have watched the Fishers implement a long term plan for preserving their family farms to the extent possible. I can say from personal experience that this is not easy and takes both time and money.  They were among the very first to preserve farmland in the Township and have continued to this day with these efforts. They are also trying to preserve farming on these lands, not just open space. In addition they have been among the first to sign up for the local LIP program which is designed to encourage hayfield management that fosters the nesting of grassland birds which have been declining precipitously in this State. To date they have preserved almost 300 acres, which is more, I think, than all but one other landowner in the Township. And they are proposing to preserve still more as part of the water project first proposed almost 10 years ago.

I grew up here in Delaware Township and find any change at all very difficult to accept. But I work hard on township committees to ensure that what development occurs is informed by real information and guided by the community needs. This project has been subjected to a level of scrutiny that is unique in the Township and should serve as a model for future water use evaluation. Water supply will become increasingly important, as well as contentious, in the future. The Fisher project is the only development that has been designed to be sustainable over time and as such is better called “harvesting’, than ‘mining’. Mining refers to extracting non -renewable resources. Water, if well-managed, is a renewable resource and, like a crop or timber, can be harvested instead of mined. That is the goal for this project and the Township, State, and applicant are working hard to make it so.